Why is it that sometimes bedtime is easy and sometimes it’s just a struggle? Maybe you missed the right moment to put your child down? It’s important to understand sleep windows, or windows of opportunity to put your child to sleep.
We all have an internal clock, known as the Circadian Rhythm. This clock works off of our environment, light and dark cues as well as genetics. There are times of day our bodies are most awake and times of day we are most prime to go to sleep. For young children, these times of sleepiness will also peak at different times throughout the day, because they need daytime sleep as well as night sleep.
If you’ve had a baby you’ve seen that newborns and young babies can only stay awake for short periods of time, and then they get sleepy again. These times are termed “windows of wakefulness” and indicate the time during which a child should be awake. Here’s a sample of these windows at different ages:
A 3-month-old can only stay awake between sleep times for 1.5-3 hours.
For a 6-month-old the window of wakefulness is 2-3 hours.
For a 9-month-old the window of wakefulness is 2-4 hours.
For a 12-month-old the window of wakefulness is 3-4 hours.
For an 18-month-old the window of wakefulness is 4-6 hours.
For a 2-year-old the window of wakefulness is 5-6.5 hours.
For a 3-year-old the window of wakefulness is 6-8 hours. Some kids this age are no longer napping.
For a 4-year-old the window of wakefulness is 6-12 hours. Many kids this age are no longer napping.
For a 5-year-old the window of wakefulness is 6-12 hours. Most kids this age are no longer napping.
*from Kim West, author of “Good Night, Sleep Tight”
Now these are averages but you should always watch your child for his or her sleepy cues, which may be different from other children’s. Alert or high-energy children are usually very good at masking the cues that they’re tired, so it’s actually more helpful to look at the clock, realizing how long they’ve been awake because they may not seem outwardly tired. If this is your child I suggest taking them into their sleep space, start a wind-down routine and perhaps that will bring on the first yawn, as they take in the environmental cues that it’s time to sleep.
The most important reason to understand sleep windows is because when we miss the window our child becomes overtired and wired – not a good place to be. When this happens our internal cup of coffee- cortisol- is released and it’s hard to go to sleep on a second wind, right? Then you see that bedtime struggle because you’re fighting against a mild form of adrenaline. The best thing to do is let it go for about 45-50 minutes and wait for the next window to open. Then your child will actually be more ready for bedtime.
So, when judging when your child should be going to sleep, make sure to keep in mind his or her windows so that naptime and bedtime can go smoothly for everyone.