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Optimal Waketime Lengths. How to get your baby to take great naps. This post walks you through how long baby should be awake at each age and how to know the signs that baby is ready for sleep.
One of the most important steps to getting your baby to sleep well is to have waketime length correct. It can take time to master, but I have put years of experience and many polls into posts to help you get there as fast as possible.
It might surprise you to realize there can be a wide variation of optimal lengths among babies. Below are some poll results from readers of this blog. These poll results really illustrate the fact that every baby is different. There are averages and there are most commons, but ultimately it is up to you to figure out what is the optimal waketime length for your baby.
What is Optimal Waketime Length?
Optimal means your baby goes down for a nap relatively easily without much crying. This is more applicable for younger babies or babies just starting sleep training. Some babies cry more than others during sleep training. Sometimes the non-criers randomly have a hard time settling down. Many times this is related to over-tiredness and over-stimulation. Keep notes of waketime lengths and activities to see if there is a pattern with good naps and not-so-good naps.
Optimal means your baby takes the appropriate length of nap for the age and cycle length. If your baby is waking early, then she is likely awake too long before the nap. See Easy Nap Fix
Optimal means your baby goes to sleep rather quickly. This is more applicable to older babies who are past sleep training. If your baby suddenly starts playing for long periods before naps, then you likely need to extend your waketime. Even 5 minutes can do the trick.
Optimal means your baby wakes up from a nap and is happy. Granted many babies (especially newborns) wake up crying because they are hungry, but once you feed your baby, she should be a happy baby. Many babies will get fussy as the next nap approaches, which is fine.
Optimal means your baby can focus during playtime. A well-rested baby can focus.
Optimal means your baby is able to maintain waketimes happily throughout the day. Typically, waketimes get longer throughout the day, not shorter. If waketimes are progressively getting shorter, then earlier waketimes might be too long. If you have a newborn, waketimes are typically about the same length all day long.
Approximate Optimal Waketime Lengths by Age
Most younger babies (newborns) need a really short waketime. Also, most newborns are going to be quite similar in optimal lengths. As the babies get older, more of a variation happens. Take my two children for example. At 6 months, Brayden was at about 2 hour waketime while Kaitlyn was at about 1 hour. Two kids, same mom, two very different waketimes. Also, the same baby has extremely variable waketimes. Morning waketime might be 1 hour while the final waketime is 2. So the time of day affects the optimal waketime length, also. Here are some numbers to consider:
- 0-4 Weeks old: 55% of responders reported that 30-50 minutes was optimal. An additional 18% (total of 73%) extends this to 30-60 minutes. This is the range I would say most are in. In this age range, I would shoot for 30-45 minutes. If your baby seems to need more or less, tweak it slowly. I would take notes of what worked and what didn’t (keep a log–BW Tips and Tricks: Keep a Log, Tips and Tricks: Take Notes, Problem Solving Tip: Detailed Log . You can also buy my pre-made book of logs. Click on the image to the right or here.
- 4-6 Weeks old: Most responders (62%) responded that 40-60 minutes was optimal. This is completely in line with what my guess would be for an optimal waketime length. If you have a baby this age, I would shoot for 40-60 minutes. Again, take notes.
- 6-8 Weeks old: Now is when there starts to be more of a variable in waketime length. Most responders (79%) reported that 40-70 minutes was optimal. These are the numbers I would work with, also. My guess is that most will be able to do about 60 minutes. Again, take notes, adjust as needed.
- 8-12 Weeks old: 70% of responders found waketime to be best from 50-80 minutes. This is also the time frame I would think most babies would fall in. If your baby isn’t one of them, don’t stress about it or force your baby to be otherwise. 11% were less and 16% were more. That means there are babies out there who differ.
- 3-4 Months old: 72% reported the optimal waketime was 60-90 minutes. Once again, this is in line with where I think most babies would be. Kaitlyn was right at 60 minutes, but if I had to err it was better to err before 60 minutes. 2 minutes after would mean trouble sleeping. So for her, I chose 50-60 minutes. If I had chosen for Brayden, it would have been 60-70 or perhaps 70-80. Remember, these averages give you a good idea of where to shoot for, but each child is different and it is up to you to figure out optimal for your baby.
- 4-5 Months old: At this age, optimal really starts to vary with a larger gap from baby to baby. The poll results for this age group had most answers from 80 minutes to 2 hours. This is a large variation. At this age some babies are starting to stay awake longer while others are still holding on to their shorter waketime length. My guess is for most babies, 2 hours is too long for most in this age group. Most will be around a little over an hour to maybe 1.5 hours, but that doesn’t mean there are not exceptions to this.
- 5-6 Months old: Again, our optimal length is going to vary, and our poll results show it. Most babies can make it over an hour by now. The largest percentage in the results was 1.75-2 hours, at only 32%–obviously not a majority. My guess is most this age are really going to do best around 1.5 hours of waketime. Again, figure out what is best for your baby.
- 6-7 Months old: We now start to see more votes in a certain area. 64% of votes were in the 1.75-2.25 hours range. I would definitely agree with this as the most likely optimal waketime length for babies this age. Brayden was at 2 hours at this age, but Kaitlyn was still closer to 1.25-1.5 hours. I would say most this age can do about 2 hours, give or take 15 minutes or so.
- 7-8 Months Old: The largest chunk of people say 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes is best for baby. I would definitely agree that this is true for most babies. But don’t ignore that about 18% needed less and 31 needed more. Both of my girls needed less. Brayden was at 2. At this age range, I would still stick with the 2 hours norm. This would apply to the first and second waketimes. Third will be longer–especially if you have dropped the third nap. If you are on a four hour schedule, you really don’t want to go beyond a 2 hour waketime because you want a 2 hour nap.
- 8-9 Months Old: I am still sticking to 2 hours as my recommendation for the first two waketimes. You want a two hour nap, so you can’t exceed a two hour waketime–unless you go beyond a four hour schedule a bit, which is fine so long as you still work in at least 4 feedings (which will mean you have at least one interval less than two hours). This poll had a lot of variation. The two largest categories at 22% each were 2-2 hr 15 min and 2.5-3 hr.
Why the Variation in Waketime Lengths?
All babies are different. Some babies need more, some need less. There is a wide range of sleep needs from baby to baby.
Some moms are wrong. I don’t intend to offend anyone. And I don’t mean that anyone outside the realm of my expectations is wrong. There are those extra sleepy and extra alert babies. If I were to do this poll thinking of Brayden as a baby and what I did with him as a newborn, I would have been way off. I kept him up much too long. Even with Kaitlyn, I think there were times that I kept her up too long as a newborn. It gets easier to tell the optimal length for moms as baby gets older. You know your baby better. You know the sleep cues better. You have a better idea of the sleep needs of your baby. There will still be variations, though, because as babies get older, their different sleep needs become more obvious, as I stated above with my two children.
Waketime Length Conclusion
As you are trying to get baby to take great naps and sleep through the night, be sure to figure out the best amount of waketime for your baby. Once you have that down, baby’s naps and night sleep will be amazing!
Other Posts to Help you Figure out “Optimal”
- The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
- Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Log eBook
- Waking Up Happy
- Easy Nap Fix
- Waking Early From Naps/Won’t Fall Asleep For Naps
- Waking After Only 20 Minutes
- Tips and Tricks: Take Notes
- BW Tips and Tricks: Keep a Log
- Problem Solving Tip: Detailed Log
- Extending Waketime
- Waketime: Length, Extending, and Calculating
- The Cornerstone for Good Naps
- How To Calculate Waketime Length
- Optimal Waketime Lengths for Toddlers (12-24 Months)
Reader Optimal Waketime Length Questions:
- Ruth Lee said…
My name is Ruth Lee McLain and I have two boys. Hudson just turned 3 and Landon is 6 months. I have been trying to follow the BabyWise program since Hudson was a baby and it has been so helpful. I wish I had written more down so that I would remember how to do things with Landon. 🙂 Landon is down to 4 feedings a day, but I am struggling with nap times. He is waking up between 6:30am and 7am and then he eats every 5 hours: around 12 for lunch, 5 for dinner and then 9:30 and down for the night. About how much wake time should he be getting? I have also been concerned that I might should start putting him down earlier at night, but I would like your thoughts. I would appreciate any advice. 🙂
April 18, 2008 7:12 PM
I agree with writing down–you don’t realize how much you will forget! As for waketime, that is going to have to be something you will need to figure out for him. At that age, my daughter had waketime for 1 hour, while my son was 2 hours. Since you are on a longer schedule, you might even be able to go longer; however, I think 2 hours would likely be your max for a six month old. I would start to put him down for bed earlier and see how he does. Earlier bedtime is always nice 😉
April 20, 2008 6:21 PM
Need help with naps? Get my eBook here to get baby taking great naps: The Babywise Mom Sleep Guide