If you’ve read up on sleep training your baby, you’ve probably encountered the term “wake window”. What is a wake window, and what does a wake window have to do with baby sleep?
Here we’ll answer all of your questions about how wake windows help you sleep train, why wake windows shift as your baby grows, and why watching the clock isn’t the most effective sleep training method.
What is a Wake Window for Babies?
Put most simply, a wake window is the amount of time a baby can stay awake between sleeps before their sleep drive kicks in and they become sleepy.
What is the Science of a Wake Window?
Wake windows are not just about time, though. They correspond with your baby’s circadian rhythm, a natural hormonal cycle all babies have – and all adults, too.
Here’s how the circadian rhythms impact and create wake windows….
When your baby first wakes up, their body begins to release a hormone called adenosine.
Adenosine builds up while your baby is awake. When adenosine hits its upper limit, it triggers the release of Melatonin, a sleepy hormone that make your baby drowsy. That is the end of the wake window and is when your baby will exhibit sleepy cues – your clues that their wake window is coming to an end.
By putting your baby down at the end of their wake window, you increase the chances they’ll fall asleep alongside their natural sleep rhythm.
As your baby sleeps, adenosine depletes. Once it hits its lowest level, your baby’s body releases cortisol and serotonin, two wakeup hormones that lift them from slumber and make them more alert.
Now that your baby is awake, the cycle begins again: adenosine builds up to the point of sleepiness, your baby exhibits sleepy cues, and you put them down for their next sleep.
This is why experts suggest watching sleepy cues instead of the actual clock when putting your baby down: a sleepy cue is a much better indicator your baby is tired than numbers on a clock.
What Are Sleepy Cues in Babies?
Sleepy cues are the actions or behaviors your baby exhibits when they’re tired. Common sleepy cues in babies include:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Pulling their ears
- Avoiding eye contact
- Glazed eyes
If you see any of these sleepy cues, your baby is reaching the end of their wake window and it’s time to bring your baby to their crib and begin your sleep-nourishing bedtime routine .
To learn more about how to create a bedtime routine and other ways to settle your baby before bed, download our Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app . It walks you through the process step-by-step so you can teach your baby to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer – an essential skill for them that also helps you get more sleep. Everybody wins!
What are The Wake Windows by Age?
If you’re looking for wake windows by age, look no further. Here is a chart explaining the wake windows for newborns to 2-year-olds, including the 7-month wake window, the 8-month wake window:
Note on Newborn Wake Windows: While newborns can stay awake for certain periods of time, those periods are so sporadic and shift day-to-day and hour-to-hour, that we can’t say there’s a newborn wake window. We can say that newborn sleep patterns are fascinating.
You’ll notice that wake windows and naps are related. When your baby begins nap transitioning , your baby’s wake windows will shift a bit.
Do Newborns Have Wake Windows?
Newborn sleep is super disorganized and often don’t have “wake windows”. Sometimes newborns don’t even exhibit sleepy cues – they just nod off. Newborns sleep so much for two reasons:
- They’re constantly growing and need sleep to convert food into energy and new cells.
- Their circadian rhythms haven’t formed. In other words, they’re not as regulated by sleep hormones as older babies. The circadian rhythm begins to take shape around 4-months, which is why 4-months is the best time to start sleep training .
Why Do Wake Windows Shift as My Baby Grows?
You may have noticed in your own baby, or maybe you’ve read about it, but one thing to know is that wake windows change as your baby grows. A 3-month-old wake window is far shorter than the 6-month wake window or the 10-month wake window.
This is for two reasons:
- Adenosine builds up faster in younger babies and slower in older babies.
- Your baby’s sleep naturally consolidates toward night as they grow. Sleep training helps this process and strengthens this process, helping your baby fall asleep faster with less protests.
What Do Wake Windows Have to Do with Sleep Training?
When you sleep train your baby, you time their sleep schedule to match their circadian rhythm, or their wake window. When sleeps are in sync this way it helps them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Plus it ensures they are getting the right balance of daytime and nighttime sleep.
What Happens If My Baby Stays Up Past Their Wake Window?
Staying up past a wake window can lead to overtiredness in babies . More technically speaking, if your baby stays up past their wake window, their body gets confused and begins to release cortisol and serotonin – two wake-up hormones.
This creates conflicting sensations – your baby is naturally asleep but full of wake-up hormones. They’re wired but also tired – a confusing, frustrating state for them that can really disrupt their sleep schedule.
Should I Set a Timer for My Baby’s Wake Window?
Yes, or keep a mental note or simply track sleeps in the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers app. Knowing when the wake window is coming to an end lets you know when to start lookign for sleepy cues.
The Difference Between Clock Time and Wake Windows:
Though wake windows are measured in hours and minutes, it’s more important you watch for your baby’s sleepy cues, rather than a particular time. That’s because your baby’s sleep drive shifts and evolves as they grow – for example, while your baby may get tired at 6pm one night, the next it may be closer to 5:45.
If you wait until 6pm that night, you’ve missed the wake window and your baby may become overtired.
Watching sleepy cues is much more effective – when you see those, it’s time to start your bedtime routine.
“Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry .
“Night Waking, Sleep-Wake Organization, and Self-Soothing in the First Year of Life,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics .
Mayes, L. C. & Cohen, D. J. (2002). The Yale Child Study Center Guide to Understanding Your Child: Healthy Development from Birth to Adolescence. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
“How Sleep Works: Your Sleep/Wake Cycle,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.