Whether you just had a baby, or if your baby is older and still struggling with sleep, you may have done some research and debated on using “wake windows” or a “set schedule" to improve your little one's sleep. This blog post is intended to help define what these terms mean, and how / when to use each when it comes to your baby' sleep while figuring out what's best for your little one.
Wake window vs Set Schedule
A wake window, also known as wake time, is the time from when your baby is awake until they fall asleep. For example, if you have a baby who woke from their last nap at 5pm, and is ready to go to bed and falls asleep by 7:30 pm, then they just had a 2.5 hour wake window.
On the flip side there is something called a set schedule (aka by the clock). This simply means that you put your baby down at a specific time each day - it’s a set schedule. For example, let’s say your six month old took a short morning nap because you had to wake them for a pediatrician appointment.Your little one normally naps from 9 – 10:15am and goes down for their second nap around 12:45 pm. Due to this appointment, they only napped from 9 – 9:30 am. So if you were following a set schedule you would simply ignore the "wake window" rule of 2.25 - 2.5 hours (6 month wake windows) and you would simply put her down at their normally scheduled nap time of 12:45 pm (which from 9:30 am is 3.25 hours). You set specific times, and you put your baby to rest at those times no matter what with a 15 minute variance (so in this situation that I mentioned above you can hypothetically put baby down at 12:30 pm because a 15 minute variance with a short nap is what I recommend (if needed).
Ok, now that we got the terminology out of the way let’s talk about what is best for your baby: it's a mix of the two. Yes, a hybrid approach! Keep on reading so that I can explain...
Well now I’m confused, do I do wake windows or a set schedule? When I work with clients, I take the baby’s age and temperament in account when working on the most optimal sleep schedule. In general, if baby is under 20 weeks old, I recommend age-appropriate wake windows with a consistent morning wake up and a consistent first nap time. So if I was working with a 16 week old I would ask mom to wake baby up by 6:30 am each day, and get nap 1 to 8:00 am. The rest of the day would follow 1.5 - 1.75 hour wake windows, with 3 - 4 naps depending on if the baby takes solid naps or short ones.
Below are my wake window (or wake times) recommendations from birth to 1 years old.
When can I go on a set nap schedule? When your baby is about 20 weeks old, or 20 weeks past your due date, I typically recommend a set schedule with a 15 minute variable nap time wake window, and a 30 minute variable bedtime wake window.
For example, if your baby takes three- 30 minute naps, and their bedtime is usually around 7:30 pm then I will advise parents to push the baby’s last wake window longer and as close to a 7:00 pm bedtime that you can get to so that there’s only a 30 minute variance from his normal bedtime. Again, we want consistency with bedtime and not too much overnight sleep because that can result in short naps the next day since you are getting too much of your baby's sleep needs in at night.
Below is my starter schedule for a baby that is on 3 naps: 7:00 am wake up (or keep baby in crib as close to 7:00 am as possible) 9:00 – 10:30 am nap (9am in crib time even if baby woke at 6:30 am that day, hard cap at 10:30 am) 12:45 – 2:00 pm nap (12:30 pm is the earliest for this nap, hard cap at 2pm) 4:15 – 5:00 pm nap (4:00 pm is the earliest with a hard cap at 5pm) 7/7:30 bedtime (bedtime depends on if baby took short naps all day or napped great)
With the above starter schedule, it is important to note that if a baby takes a short first nap I will push that baby to a 12:30 pm nap 2 (so there can be a 15 minute variance when doing naps on a set schedule). Same thing goes with nap 3. If baby took a short nap 2 then I will ask my clients to get the second nap as close to 4pm as possible and not earlier than 4pm.
Want to learn more about baby schedules through 3 years old? Sleep schedules evolve almost every month until they are on a one nap schedule. Once baby is about 15 – 18 months, and on a solid one nap, their sleep schedule will evolve every 6 months until they are about 3 years old. If there is one thing you can count on, it is change, and sleep schedules will change as your child matures.
Want to be prepared with schedules for your baby up to 3 years old? If so, consider purchasing my Essential Sleep Schedules Guide which you can find here, or if you need more help you can schedule a discovery call to learn how you can work with me to solve your sleep issues in only 3 weeks (or less)!