Knowing your Child’s “Sleep Window”
Often when I ask parents about their child’s sleep window, they have no idea what I’m talking about! Without knowing your child’s sleep window, it can be a real challenge to get them to sleep. A sleep window is the time that your child naturally wants to sleep. If you can get your little one into their crib or bed during this window, it will make it much easier for them to fall asleep. In terms of sleep, this magic time will become your best friend, as it is the ideal time for your baby to fall asleep. The first step in discovering your child’s sleep window is determining the average level of awake-time your child can handle according to age. Here is a list of approximate times by age:
- 0-3 Months: approx. 45 min
- 3-6 Months: 1-2 hours
- 6-14 Months: 3-3.5 hours
- 15 Months-3 Years: 5 hours
Now that you have the average amount of time children can stay awake, you need to determine the specific amount of time your baby can handle. The next step in figuring it out is to look for sleep cues, which are signs that your baby is getting tired. The most common cues are:
- Pulling at ears
- Rubbing eyes
- Arching back
- Red-rimmed eyes
Your baby’s cues may be different than this list, but the key here is to look for these signs so that you can get your baby into his or her crib when you see them. If you see crankiness or fussiness, you likely have missed the window and have a baby that is overtired. Don’t wait to see these behaviors as you will be fighting an uphill battle. Keep in mind, real sleep cues can be subtle and often parents think their baby is not tired enough yet and try keeping them up longer. It is better to get your baby into the crib at the first sign of sleepiness than to wait for more cues.
Finding your baby’s window can be a bit of a process as you learn the cues. It can be helpful to spend a few days making notes on how long your baby is awake, what cues you see and how well he or she falls asleep for naps. You’ll know when you’ve found the ideal sleep window when putting your baby down is easy. If you can complete your bed or naptime routine and place your baby in the crib with no crying and he or she falls asleep easily within 10 minutes, you have found the correct window. However, because babies develop so quickly, the window can change on you just after you’ve found the correct one!
If you find that your baby was doing well with naps and bedtime, but things have changed, you may need to look at adjusting the window (as long as the change is not due to illness, travel or teething). If your baby has started crying during naptime, lies in the crib without falling asleep or at least one nap starts getting shorter, it is time to make an adjustment. To do this, you can check out the awake-time chart to see how much more time your baby can handle and then start adding about 15-minutes of awake time every 3 days until you’ve reached the desired amount of time for your baby. This may also mean changing bedtime to an earlier schedule to fall in line with your baby’s new sleep window. Keep in mind, all transition periods take time, so keep at it and you will find that ideal amount of time. Once you do, you will all be sleeping well.
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