Wake Windows vs. Set Schedules
Curious to know if you should be following age appropriate wake windows or a set schedule when it comes to your child's daytime sleep? Wondering how to move to a set schedule? In this blog we will talk about wake windows and what they are, set schedules and how they work, which one you should be following, and how you can begin following a set schedule when you were previously following wake windows.
An awake window is the maximum amount of time your baby can stay awake at one time without becoming overtired. Newborns have really short wake windows typically being between 40-90 minutes in the first 3 months of life. Young babies are pretty sensitive to their wake windows and it might be hard to push naps later even just by 15 minutes until closer to 7 months when you might be moving to a 2 nap schedule. Most parents will follow wake windows until their baby is on a 1 nap schedule which usually requires a set schedule! More about that next.
I'll be honest, as a parent myself I prefer having my kids on a set schedule. We started following a set schedule around 9 months when we moved to a 2 nap schedule with set wake and bed times and that really helped me organize my availability to help other families and find time to get out of the hosue without worrying about my youngest becoming overtired. Set schedules make day planning so much easier! Have afternoon errands to run, but having anxiety about grocery shopping with a crying, overtired baby? Just offer a longer morning nap! Easy Peasy!
Following a set schedule usually happens once a child has dropped to 2 naps per day between 6-9 months of age, this is more likely to work for your baby if they are able to sleep a solid 1-1.5 hours at the 2 scheduled naps, because if they are still napping in short 30-40 minute intervals this often changes the wake window which you should still account for if your child isn't getting restorative sleep during nap time.
Parents often wonder if following a set schedule means they have to be tied to it 100% of the time and I love to bear the good news of what is called The 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule implies that you should follow your baby's daily routine 80% of the time, but 20% of the time you can cut loose and enjoy a day out of the house without worrying about throwing your little one off schedule. However, I do not recommend going more than 3 days of skipping or cutting naps short because this could lead to your child experiencing early morning wakings (waking for the day before 6a.m.)
Which One Is Better
I won't say one is 'better' than the other per say, because if your 3 month old is on a set schedule and it works for your family and your baby is happy, that is a-mazing! Following a set schedule with younger babies might mean you wake them at the same time each day and bedtime usually falls within the same hour each night, so wake windows are usually within the same range each day and this is great. Babies thrive off this kind of consistency and it can help lessen the severity of the 4 month sleep regression. But I will say from my professional experience that set schedules work best for babies who have consolidated their naps and can sleep a full cycle and we can fully expect it from them because we've seen them do it, which doesn't usually happen before 5-6 months or your baby might be showing signs of being ready to drop to 2 naps and you could begin moving into a set schedule.
How to Move to a Set Schedule
You don't need to have a fancy plan in place to move to a set schedule, even if you were relying solely on wake windows before. Here's what to do instead:
Double check that your child has consistently showed all signs of being ready to drop to a 2 nap schedule. (see below for a 2 nap schedule readiness checklist)
Decide what times of day each nap will occur and the times they need to be awake by to ensure bedtime isn't effected.
Set a date to begin following the new set schedule.
When the day comes, wake them up by the desired time and begin following your set nap schedule. Remember to keep the daily wake and bed time the same each night when possible.
How I Can Help You
In the event that your baby has gotten off schedule and your stuck in a cycle of early morning wake ups or frequent night wakings due to overtiredness, check out my sleep training packages and let's chat about what we can do to solve it via sleep training package support options! I offer 3 day, 7 day, and 14 day sleep training support lengths. During your 15-minute assessment call, I will gather the information I need to determine which package would best work for your child based on the sleep issues they are experiencing.
Kaylee - Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Coach