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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Merino

Understanding Wake Times for Babies: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Have you ever found yourself asking these questions?:

“Is it nap time yet?”

“How long should my child be awake for?”

“What is a good wake time for my 6 month old?” 

“When should I put my child down to bed?” 

“Am I keeping my baby up too long?”


If you found yourself ever asking yourself any of these questions or anything similar, you have landed on the right page!


One of the biggest myths that are told to parents is that, “babies will sleep when they are tired”. If this was true I wouldn’t have this beautiful job as a sleep consultant, because nobody would need me to help and support them nurture healthy sleep for their family! Helping your baby learn to fall asleep, and making sure they are getting enough sleep, is an achievable dream when you figure out their age appropriate wake time and act on it. Getting them down to sleep to foster an age-appropriate wake time is a very important piece of the puzzle of improving your child’s sleep. 


What Are Wake Times?

“Wake Times” are defined as the amount of time your baby spends awake in between sleep periods. Simply put, it’s all the other times they are eating and playing, and not sleeping.


Why Are Wake Times Important?

You want to find that “sweet sleep tired window” for your baby to avoid putting them down to sleep under or overtired. Undertired or overtired babies tend to protest naps and/or bedtime, which leads to a sleep struggle. This then leads to short naps, frequent night wakings, or even early morning wakings. 


There's such a fine line between undertired, tired, and overtired signs, but babies are actually pretty good at communicating these - we just need to be watching for them, and also being aware of the clock!


For newborns (0-3 Months) you want to be watching and acting on sleepy/tired cues, with also being aware of their wake times. For Babies 4 Months and older this is where it becomes a balance between watching the clock time and their sleepy cues to determine when is the appropriate time to put them into their bed and fall asleep with ease.


Here’s what to look for:

Undertired

Baby is not quite tired enough to go to sleep.

-Resists settling: Protests nap/bedtime

-Toddlers will play or get out of bed constantly

-Short naps, early morning wakings

-Wakes in the night and wants to stay up for hours

Baby may need more stimulation/activity during the day, or they simply are at an age where they can now stay up longer between sleep periods.


Tired/Sleepy

This is where you want to get your babe into bed, before they get overtired. It should be around the age-appropriate wake time. 

-Blank or distant stares

-Reduced activity, smiling, and talking

-Becoming cuddly

-Yawning

-Pulling at ears


Overtired

-Hard crying (when you know they aren’t hungry) and hard to settle

-Clenched fists

-Back arching

-Refusing a feed

-Hyperactive

-Tantrums in toddlers

-Wakes after one sleep cycle (approx. 30-45 minutes)

-Frequent night wakings and Early morning wake ups


How Do I get The Timing Just right?

You want to first see where your baby falls into the average wake time chart (see chart below). You want to keep in mind these are averages to be used as guidelines. If you are seeing those sleepy cues from your child before the wake time the chart describes, you have the option to go with it. This could be your child’s wake time. If you find they protested nap or bedtime, or their nap is short next time try to push them about 5 - 30 minutes longer. I encourage you to keep a sleep log, so you can see patterns emerge and where your child is falling on the wake time chart. In my experience, the majority of babies fall within these averages, however adjustments of 30 minutes +/- may be needed at times. This is another reason to track and keep a sleep log! 


How Long Should Your Baby Be Awake?

Newborn sleep is erratic and sometimes unpredictable, but as mentioned above usually you can see their sleepy cues around the 1 - 1.5 hour mark, so you want to help them settle and go to sleep. Some newborns think they can stay up past that 1.5 hour mark, but then you usually end up with a baby meltdown. 


You will know you have hit the timing right of how long your baby should be awake when they drift off to dreamland easily. If they struggle (assuming hunger, gas pains, regressions, etc. aren’t preventing your child from sleeping), go back to those undertired and overtired signs and see if they fall into one of those categories, then adjust your wake times accordingly. 


Recommended wake times by age are:





Want the above graphic for you to print off and put it on your fridge? Snag it here under free resources!


Trust me - It gets easier and easier for you to get to know your child's ideal wake time. Putting them down before they reach the overtired state will not only be easier for you, but also help your baby get the most restorative sleep possible!


So put your child sleep detective hat on, log your child’s sleep, and experiment with wake times. Aiming to get the timing “just right” is very beneficial and will greatly improve your child’s overall sleep. Once sleep has improved, you will start to see a schedule develop on your sleep log. This glorious schedule will then outweigh the need to follow wake times, as your child’s sleep time will be consistent and predictable. Keeping this consistent and predictable schedule will be crucial to help set your child’s internal clock, making the desire to fall asleep and stay asleep way easier. 


You’ve got this!


If you would like to a chat with me or would like to find out more about how we can help your family nurture healthy sleep, please check out our packages and don’t hesitate to reach out: andrea@sleepingbeautiezzz.com

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