The Right Awake Times for Your Baby

By Larissa O’Loughlin

September 21, 2020

Awake Time simply refers to the amount of time your baby is awake during the day between sleeps. Before I had my first kiddo I sort of thought babies just fell asleep when they were tired, and the amount of time they were awake really didn’t matter much. Wow, was I wrong! Once I learned about wake windows and found my baby’s sweet spot for nap times, our days became so much easier. Nailing down the right awake times for your baby can be overwhelming, so we are here to help! While every baby is different, here is a chart of recommended awake times based on baby’s age:Keep in mind that if your baby is on the younger side of the age group, they will likely do best in the lower end of the awake time range. Also, your baby will need an increasing amount of awake time as the day progresses. Each wake window should be longer than the previous one by about 15-30 minutes, with the longest awake time of the day happening before bed. Another factor to consider is that sleep needs decrease as a baby grows, so awake times will gradually lengthen as your baby gets older. 

The goal of targeting particular awake times is to avoid your baby being overtired or under tired.  This way she will fall asleep easily for naps and bedtime and sleep for long, restful periods. Overtired results from a baby being awake longer than their little bodies can handle. If we’ve missed their sweet spot, a baby can start to produce cortisol, a hormone secreted in response to stress. This is actually a biological defense mechanism. The cortisol is telling them to stay awake to remain prepared to “fight or flight” in a dangerous situation.  

Since your baby’s biggest stress is likely having their diaper changed, we don’t want them releasing cortisol because it will cause them to fight sleep and wake up more frequently. Instead, we want to put the baby down before they enter this state, so they fall asleep easily and stay asleep for naps and bedtime! 

Undertired, on the other hand, is when we aren’t giving a baby enough of a chance to build up sleep drive before a nap or bedtime. An under tired baby will often roll around, babble, or play in the crib instead of napping. Or, they may fall asleep quickly but have short naps, frequent night wakings, or early mornings. In this case, we want to extend their awake time. 

But what if your baby is showing all the classic tired signs (eyes glossed over, rubbing eyes, fussiness) and they are far away from reaching their target awake time? The answer to this depends on your baby and how well they are sleeping. If you are getting chunky naps and have solid nights — you don’t need to change anything! BUT, if your baby is having a hard time falling asleep at bedtime, waking up often at night, and naps are a disaster, consider shortening or widening their wake windows based on the above chart. 

To decrease your baby’s awake time, simply put them down earlier — easy, peasy! Stretching wake windows can be a bit more challenging. Try to extend their wake window by about 15 minutes each day until you’ve reached your goal. To do this without them becoming fussy and overtired — distract! Bring them outside, show them a toy they haven’t seen in a while, listen to some music, or provide them with some safe sensory play.  If your baby is at the age where they are taking solids, this can also be a great time for a little snack. This will both distract and energize them to be able to make it to the next nap. 

If you’d like more guidance to help you make sense of your baby’s ever-changing wake windows, we have an incredible resource for you! Click here to receive the free Mama Coach Awake Times eBook! It has target wake windows broken down by age and time of day. It also includes multiple sample schedules for each age. Sometimes it just takes a few schedule tweaks to see an improvement. Your baby will be snoozing soundly in no time!

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