When Do “Awake Windows” Change & How Can I Extend Them?

I began working with a recent client of mine right as her baby was approaching 4-months-old. Leading up to our consultation, I proposed an age-appropriate schedule, based on the baby’s current age and the average wake windows for this age – always a great starting point!

Here’s the thing – development in infancy is fast and furious. Actually, development in the first three years of your child’s life is fast and furious!

I knew that all the development with sleep (around 4-months of age there is also a physiological shift happening with your child’s sleep), coupled with learning some independent sleep skills, we would likely run into a few bumps.

Things were going well as my client implemented the plan – everything was going beautifully, actually!

Until the LAST DAY of our three-week plan. Something was OFF. It was an awful nap day.

I knew it was bound to happen, though.

When your child sleeps, growth hormones are released, memories get categorized, stored, or pruned, etc.…there’s a lot of magic happening! And now that this little one was having such great sleep, there was even more growth and development occurring. It’s not uncommon for children to go through a growth spurt after gaining some solid sleep skills.

After reviewing his sleep log, I quickly realized that his wake windows likely needed to be stretched again, as he was starting to fight going down for his nap and when he did fall asleep, he was back to taking some short naps. 

We decided it was time to stretch his windows again to help push out that fourth nap. As soon as we did this, he was back to taking quality consolidated naps (2 each day) plus a third catnap to get him to bedtime. 11 hours at night, and we were back on track!

And since this is a question I get fairly often, I figured I’d share all my tips and tricks with you when it comes to extending awake windows.

Start with a baseline by age.

What do I mean by baseline? Well, most children will have an average amount of time, based on their age and development, that they can handle being awake before becoming overtired and needing a nap or needing to go to bed for the night.

If you don’t already have my Master Sleep Chart, grab it here for reference. Pay attention to the column that reads “Max. Wake Time in Hours” – this gives you the averages you need for your baseline.

Now, each child is different, so your baby may need a bit more or a bit less time for their wake window…this is something you may need to do some trial and error to figure out. One way to tell if your child is getting enough sleep is to gauge their mood – if they wake up content and stay calm/happy through the day, they’re probably getting enough sleep and you’re hitting the right awake window. If they’re throwing more tantrums or are fussy, chances are they are a bit over- or under-tired.

Watch for sleep to change – you’ll know when something is “off”.

You can bet that right when you think you’ve finally got it, it’s bound to change again. Development is fast and furious, remember?!

You can be almost certain that every 3-5 weeks you’ll be looking to tweak your child’s wake windows again, at least until they get to a solid 2-nap schedule, somewhere between 6-9 months.

Things to watch for – just like with my client mentioned above – fighting naps and/or taking longer than normal to fall asleep, short(er) naps than normal, or bedtime getting pushed awkwardly late to try to accommodate a third or fourth nap later in the day.

But my baby seems tired! How to extend wake windows successfully.

When it’s time to extend an awake window, you are, essentially, asking your baby to push slightly past their point of tiredness, so this is somewhere you want to tread lightly.

I’d recommend saving super engaging activities for this end of the wake window. You’re going to want to pull out all the stops to keep your baby happy.

Babies LOVE water play, bubbles, dancing, looking out the window, going outside (but not in the stroller – this can make them sleepy and defeats the purpose of keeping them engaged!), chasing the cat or dog, etc. Oh, and if they’ve started solids, snacks are a great way to keep your baby happy and awake just a little bit longer to help you stretch that window a bit more.

Also, if you’re shooting to get from 2 hours to 2.5 hours, I would recommend trying to push ten minutes later each day until you get to the full 2.5 hours so it doesn’t feel like such a drastic change all at once.

My hope is that you can take this information and be successful with navigating your child’s schedule in their first year or so confidently.
But this isn’t something you have to do alone, nor is it something that is an easy answer for all babies. Some are more sensitive when it comes to sleep than others and can be somewhat of a puzzle. If you find yourself in this situation and would like a bit more help navigating your child’s sleep, make sure you get in touch. I’d love to help you!