Making sense of wake windows
If you've spent more than five minutes online looking for help with your baby's sleep, you will have come across "wake windows." They are based on the idea that babies of different ages need to spend a certain amount of time awake before they need to sleep again. Try for a nap too soon, and baby won't be sleepy enough and it'll be a battle. Leave it too long and they'll be tired and cranky which might make the nap itself tricky and might have an impact on night sleep. So far so obvious, and true. The thing that is difficult about wake windows is that they are often presented as a one size fits all fact. But there is so little actual research about naps, and what we do have shows us just how varied individual babies' needs are. Some babies will happily last much longer between sleeps than a baby of a similar age. Nothing wrong with that, they're just different! I think the idea of wake windows can be useful for many of us - but as always, it's about getting to know your own baby. You might use the "time between naps" listed in the table as a rough starting point, as a reminder to start tuning in to your baby's own unique tired cues 15-30 minutes or so before that time. When you see tired signs, get started with helping your baby find sleep. If you don't see any, offer a nap anyway and see what happens. If baby goes to sleep in 15-20 minutes, that's a good time for a nap. If not, they could have done with longer.
Time between sleeps will also vary through the day. For most babies, the shortest gap will be between waking in the morning and the first nap of the day. And for most babies, a longer stretch before bedtime will help them build up enough sleep pressure to consolidate their first stretch of night sleep. As always, these things are offered not as rules but as flexible guidelines, starting points if you're feeling a bit lost. If you find them helpful, brilliant. If not, then throw them out! The most important thing is tuning in to your own baby and beginning to learn their rhythms. And then just when you think you've cracked it... they'll drop a nap 🙈
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