Breaking down when to purely follow wake windows and when to follow a set, yet flexible schedule
We get this question A LOT! So before we go into the fun stuff, let’s start with some basics around infant and toddler sleep so that you have this foundational understanding of their sleep before we then talk about schedules.
Avoiding An Overtired Child
Daytime sleep and nighttime sleep go hand in hand for your little one! And often when daytime sleep is not only totally thrown off for a few days but it’s not age-appropriate, well, it can make nighttime sleep rough!
So ensuring your child is getting just the right amount of daytime sleep for their age while also ensuring they are not kept up too long in between naps and bedtime is a key piece of the overall sleep puzzle.When your child becomes overtired not only can it make falling asleep for the nap harder for them sometimes (ironic, I know!) but it can lead to short naps, false starts after bedtime and it can even bring on night wakings.
So now that you know why daytime sleep is important for your child, you’re then faced with the question of how to know if you simply follow “wake windows” for their age or do you work off of a set schedule?
Following Wake Windows
A wake window is the length of time your child is up between morning time and a nap or from a nap to another nap or a nap and then bedtime. Each of those is a wake window. So when you see a sleep code like “I follow a 2, 2, 2.25, 2.25 schedule” what that translates to is: their baby wakes up for the day then takes a nap 2 hours later, then after that nap they are up for 2 hours and take another nap, then they do 2 hours and 15 minute stretches before their last nap and before bedtime as well.
Check out my helpful chart below on average wake window lengths based on your child’s age. Notice how it is a range and how they are constantly evolving? I like to follow a wake window schedule (so no set nap times or no set bedtime) for babies who are under 6 months and are therefore taking 3+ naps per day. They are still getting used to feeding and sleep patterns/routines and they have such short wake windows. This means they are super sensitive to stretching beyond those wake windows so a set schedule can often lead to an overtired baby if their naps aren’t the exact same length each day!
BUT, you should have a morning anchor! This is an ideal morning wakeup time that can give or take 30 minutes in either direction so that bedtime is often falling in a general range as well. So while your naps may still be a bit of a “choose your own adventure” until bedtime, you are still helping set your little one’s internal clock
When to Follow a Set Schedule
A set schedule makes life much easier! And once your baby has transitioned to 2 naps and they’ve been on a 2 nap schedule for a few weeks and are fully adjusted THEN you should start to follow a set schedule.A set schedule doesn’t mean a rigid schedule! When your child is down to 2 naps they can handle longer wake windows and since there are now less naps their body can start to predict when sleep is coming next and therefore produce higher levels of melatonin (the sleepy hormone) prior to each!
So you have your “morning anchor” and therefore you can make nap 1 at a set time – it should be based on age-appropriate wake windows though. So you wouldn’t set nap 1 for a 9 month old 4 hours after their wakeup time.
Then if nap 1 is typically 1.5 hours long but is just 1 hour long one day, there is no reason to adjust or bring up nap 2. You leave nap 2 at its set time. Sometimes you may need to move bedtime up earlier by 30 minutes if your child’s daytime sleep was under 2 hours. And if they woke up more than an hour earlier than usual, you should really only have to adjust nap 1 by bringing it up 30 minutes earlier than its set time. So this way we’re not solidifying that early morning wakeup time but also not starting the day off by completely overtiring your child.
So there you have it! The breakdown of wake windows vs set schedules and when to follow each to help your little one’s daytime schedule.
If you need more help with your child’s schedule you can purchase the 30-Minute Phone Huddle and we can dive deeper in making your child’s schedule work for them!