How do I figure out my baby’s wake windows?
Wake windows are the length of time in-between naps that babies/toddlers are awake. In practice, the idea is that you look at your child’s age to find his wake window, then put him down for a nap after he has been awake for that amount of time. Not just infants and toddlers have “wake windows” – we all have them, and they are mainly affected by sleep drive (sleep pressure) that increases the longer we are awake. It also increases in length as we get older. For most adults, you could say their “wake window,” on average, is between 15-17 hours (e.g., from waking at 7 am to going to bed at 11 pm).
However, there are a few challenges when using wake windows with infants and toddlers. First, their wake windows change rapidly during the first few years of life, and for babies, can change day to day! Second, napping is highly variable from child to child, so predicting them based solely on age is difficult at best. Additionally, the charts you find on various websites describing aged-based wake window lengths do not seem to be based on solid scientific evidence, and they vary from website to website. This makes real-world application of wake window sleep schedules challenging.
That said, if you have tried wake windows and they are working for your child, good for you! There is no harm in using them. An alternative for babies (over 3 months of age and growing/eating well) is just to use your baby’s sleepy cues (jerking arms/legs, yawning, clenching fists), to guide her nap schedule, and establish a good naptime routine or have your baby nap at set times (such as 9:00 and 2:00 for a baby that takes two naps a day).