• Adrienne Fenton

Awake Windows - how much sleep does baby need

As I chat to families there are a number of common questions that pop up. One of the most common is about Awake Windows and how much sleep baby needs each day. Let’s take a look…

What are Awake Windows?

The Circadian Rhythm drives our awake and sleep times and is fueled by the hormones Melatonin and Cortisol. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and signals to our body that it is time to relax, unwind and prepare for bed. Cortisol is the alert hormone and keeps us awake through the day.

As the hormone levels rise and fall, there are natural windows each day that we use to align nap times and dictate when babies should head towards bedtime in the evening. These natural sleep windows are created by Cortisol dropping at the same time as Melatonin is low and occur between 9am-10am and 12pm-2pm. As you can see in the image below, around 6.30pm Melatonin is on the rise as Cortisol is dropping right off for the day; and we want to be working with this powerful biological drive to sleep!

When we work with this system, we see;

  • reduced crying

  • reduced stress

  • increased sleep duration

  • quicker settling time

  • more consistent naps

Why are Awake Windows important?

Babies can only tolerate a certain amount of awake time before they become tired, unsettled and grizzly. They can also become overstimulated and appear “wired” or hyperactive. This is their second wind and it can be difficult to settle a baby like this to sleep.

When baby is very young the windows are very small and as baby becomes stronger, the awake windows increase. Awake Windows include the time it takes to feed, change and complete your pre-sleep ritual. The idea is baby is in bed before the end of the awake window otherwise they can become overtired which makes it more difficult for them to settle.

Following awake windows is also a great way to start creating a feed, play, sleep pattern for newborns and introduce a *little* predictability to your day. The timings outlined below are a guide and it is common for babies to vary 15 minutes +/-. Keep an eye on baby’s sleep cues to find your baby’s sweet spot based on the table below.

Awake Windows for all ages

How to extend baby’s Awake Window

If you are wanting to extend an awake time, do so over a few days by increasing the time between naps by 5-10 minutes each day until it is the length you seek. You may need to bring bedtime forward a little to compensate for the extra awake time.

What if we miss the Sleep Window?

If baby hasn’t had a good day napping and/or we miss the evening sleep window the Cortisol spikes as baby becomes overtired and this has a two-fold impact on their sleep. Firstly the spike in Cortisol makes it difficult for them to switch off and delays the onset of initial sleep. Secondly, because it takes a while for the Cortisol levels to fall again, baby struggles to settle into deep sleep. and this is why they can be so wakeful overnight. By offering bedtime between 6.30-7.30pm we are working with baby’s own natural rhythm which ultimately makes life easier for everybody and allows baby to catch the first wave of sleep that their body offers.

Now that you are armed with more information, you will be able to assess your baby’s Awake Windows and ensure you are not combating overtiredness! If you would like further information, or a second set of eyes on your baby’s routine please feel free to reach out by email, Instagram or Facebook or book a consultation online.

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