Every new parent quickly learns that a newborn baby’s sleep cycle is a complex and ever-changing puzzle. Newborns have short sleep cycles, and understanding the “wake windows” in between can help you navigate your baby’s sleeping patterns. Knowing and recognizing your baby’s wake windows is vital for helping your baby sleep longer, and for providing them with the restful sleep they need for healthy physical and emotional development. This guide is designed to help you understand newborn wake windows and how to use them to create a healthy sleep schedule for your little one. With the right knowledge, you can help your baby get the optimal amount of sleep and ensure they’re always feeling their best.
What are newborn wake windows?
Newborn wake windows are the times of day when your baby will be most likely to be awake. Knowing when your baby’s wake windows occur will help you plan for feedings or other baby care tasks at those times. Each baby has different wake windows, so knowing when yours is awake will make the sleep-training process easier. You’ll know when to expect your baby to be especially active. (It’s important to keep in mind that a newborn’s wake windows may be different each day due to sleep patterns that vary from baby to baby.) These windows are different from sleep windows, which refer to the times when a baby is likely to fall asleep. Understanding when your baby is likely to fall asleep will make the process of putting your baby to sleep easier. Each baby has different sleep windows, so knowing when yours is likely to fall asleep will help you make sure your baby gets the right amount of sleep for his/her age and development.
How do newborns’ sleep cycles work?
Newborn sleep cycles are short, and their sleep patterns can vary from one baby to the next. In general, newborn sleep cycles are anywhere from 1-3 hours long. After your baby has gone through one sleep cycle, he or she will enter a lighter period of sleep — a state called light sleep. During this period of light sleep, your baby will be more likely to wake up and be fussy, which makes it the perfect time to feed him/her. If you can get your baby back to sleep before he or she fully wakes up, it will help them get a longer stretch of sleep at the end of the cycle. The first few months with a newborn will be very sleep-deprived, but there are steps and tips you can take to get your baby sleeping better and longer.
Factors that influence newborn wake windows
Newborn wake windows are influenced by many factors, including your baby’s age, feeding schedule, sleep environment, and overall health. Here are some common factors that can affect newborn wake windows:
- Age – Newborns are especially sensitive to light, and new parents should be aware that the light from electronics can disrupt their baby’s sleep patterns. It’s important to keep lights low during feedings and other times when your baby is awake.
- Breastfeeding or formula-feeding – Feeding your baby may provide the best way to help him/her get through those “light sleep” periods. If your baby is breastfeeding, you may be able to soothe him/her with some gentle rocking or cuddling while you feed him/her. When formula-feeding, you can also use a rocking chair or a pacifier to help your baby feel soothed while he’s/she’s eating.
- Health – Illness can also affect your baby’s wake windows, so keep an eye on your little one and be sure to take him/her to the doctor if he/she shows signs of being sick. If your baby’s health is compromised in any way, his/her sleep cycles may be disrupted.
Using newborn wake windows to create a sleep schedule
One of the best and easiest ways to help your baby get the sleep he/she needs is to create a sleep schedule. There are many different ways to create a sleep schedule, but all successful sleep routines follow one simple rule: put your baby down drowsy but not asleep. This ensures that your baby gets the right amount of sleep for his/her age and development. Because newborn sleep cycles are short and light sleep periods are frequent, it’s easy for your baby to be “too awake” to fall asleep.
Signs your baby is ready for sleep
If you are breastfeeding, you can tell when your baby is ready for sleep by paying attention to his/her cues. Babies often have predictable ways of showing that they’re ready for sleep, like closing their eyes, turning their heads to the side, or getting fussy. If you see these signs, it may be time for your baby’s next feeding. You can also look at the clock to determine when your baby’s next feeding may be due. If you are formula-feeding your baby, you can still use the clock to determine when your baby is ready for sleep. If your baby is showing signs of being ready for sleep, put him/her down gently.
When to seek help for your baby’s sleep issues
If you’ve tried everything you can think of to help your baby sleep better, it could be time to seek outside help. Sleep issues can be frustrating for new parents, so if you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working, don’t be afraid to seek help from a sleep specialist or your doctor. Many sleep issues are common in newborns and can be easy to solve if you know how. For example, a baby who isn’t getting the right amount of sleep may be waking up too often during the night. The easiest way to solve this is by putting your baby on a sleep schedule and helping him/her learn when he/she should be going to sleep and waking up. This is something that all babies naturally want to do, but they need our help to make it happen.
Resources for further information on newborn sleep cycles
There are many great websites and books out there that can give you more information about newborn sleep patterns. Here are a few recommendations that we think will be helpful for new parents:
- Baby Sleep Site: This website is a great resource for parents who are having sleep issues with their babies. It provides a lot of helpful information about sleeping newborns, including articles about common sleep issues like colic, nighttime crying, and bedtime challenges.
- The Sleepless Child: This book is written by a pediatrician and sleep specialist who are parents themselves. They write about their journey with sleep, including all their ups and downs with sleep training their newborns. The book also provides lots of helpful information about newborn sleep patterns.
- The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time: This book is written by a pediatrician who specializes in helping parents solve sleep issues with their babies. The book includes helpful information about newborn sleep cycles and provides lots of information about how to solve common sleep issues.
Newborns have very short and frequent sleep cycles, and they are very sensitive to light and noise. Newborn wake windows are the times of day when your baby is most likely to be awake. Knowing when your baby’s wake windows occur will help you plan for feedings or other baby care tasks at those times. To help your baby get the right amount of sleep, it’s important to create a sleep schedule, put your baby down drowsy but not asleep, and pay attention to your baby’s cues when he/she is ready for sleep. Seek outside help if you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing is working.