In your parenting journey so far, you have most likely heard all about awakes windows and for some families they can work really well but for others they are truly quite stressful.
For those families, where the set awake windows work with relative ease, they tend to have naturally predictable and easy going temperament babies. These babies may also feel the effect of naturally rising sleep pressure more easily and who as a result, will easily fit into a prescribed awake window by age. This is where the online sleep programs and generic downloadable sleep training schedules have the good results for families we all hear about.
On the other hand, those babies that have a very different temperament, may present to be super busy and interested in everything, they need lots more parental engagement, they go and go and appear to never need as much sleep as everyone else’s babies. Babies that have a temperament like this, have been found in research to not feel the same effect of sleep pressure rising like the naturally predictable temperament babies. They may need longer timeframes awake to take sleep with greater ease and pushing them before they are ready is highly stressful for everyone. So prescriptive strict awake windows and their effectiveness is highly variable between babies depending on their individual sleep pressure.
Are you nodding your head here??
But what about the Sleep Tables we all see on the internet and within sleep programs, they use awake windows? Where does that information come from, I can hear you asking.
Well there was research undertaken that looked at purely the behavioural changes in babies when naps have been prematurely dropped, together with assessing the timeframes the babies by age were awake between naps. This generic behavioural information from this study was then used to formulate the sleep tables the downloadable sleep programs rely on so heavily. But if we think about how different our babies are even within the same age group, the behavioural changes would have been highly variable even within the same age group due to temperament and the differences in sensitivity to naturally rising sleep pressure.
My suggestion to you is, if you need to, use the tables as a guide but understanding your baby’s unique behavioural cues when their natural sleep pressure is rising, will give you a far better indication of when they are ready for sleep.
For example: if your little one is eight months old and is not adhering to the generic awake windows time frame of 2.5 - 3.5 hours awake, then shorten it or lengthen it by 15 – 30 minutes at a time and see if you can find your little ones natural sleep pressure sweet spot. It will cause no detrimental harm or effect to your little ones development if you adjust in this way. By doing this you are being responsive to their natural sleep rhythms and as a result will reduce the overall stress of trying to achieve the unrealistic awake window for that day.
If you can’t settle your little one to sleep within 15 – 20 minutes and they appear to be fighting it, get them back up, abort the nap and/or bedtime for now and try again in 30 -60 minutes instead. When the sleep pressure is high, then sleep should come easy. If you are fighting them to go to sleep, their sleep pressure isn’t high enough yet. You haven’t failed, they just need more time awake to allow for a higher sleep pressure.
As parents we need to be flexible when using awake windows in that babies will have more tired days and not need quite so much sleep in a 24 hour period the next. Your baby’s sleep needs will continually change and evolve, daily, weekly and being more relaxed about this biological fact will help reduce your overall stress and anxiety around your baby’s sleep.
Sleep Well, Karla x