What You Need to Know about Baby Wake Times to Sleep Train


baby sleeping using baby wake times

One day as I was chatting with other parents about sleep training, one mom asked me what the ideal baby wake times are by age. And because I didn’t have that committed to memory, I decided to do some research for an even more thorough answer.

Here is what I found: for the first 2-3 months after birth, a wake-sleep cycle goes from 2 hours to 3 hours – with the wake times gradually increasing from “just long enough to feed” at birth to an hour or 90 minutes at 3 months old. By six months, those times are still slowly expanding so that a full cycle is about 4-5 hours and awake times are 2.5-3 hours in length. This trend continues until about 12 months old – when kids are ready to be awake for up to 5 hours at a go! Well, as long as they then get a good nap, that is. Let’s break it down further.

What is Baby Wake Time?

Baby wake times are based on the “Eat, Wake, Sleep” cycle that many sleep training programs promote. Now, my babies hated that particular pattern and instead preferred to “Wake, Play, Eat, Sleep.” Either way, these timing guidelines (that rely on sleep signs and cues) still work – just use your preferred awake time schedule to guide your timing of naps and bedtimes.

Kimberly C. Starr

The main benefit to the Eat, Wake Sleep cycle is, of course, that it’s easier to prevent the sleep crutch of nursing to sleep. So if you can use that schedule, it’s definitely better.

However, if you’ve got stubborn babies like this ginger does, know that it’s okay to make things work like I did. Your baby will adjust and things will still work out – when they wean!

So a cycle refers to the whole thing – the eating, playing, and sleeping. Ready to look at it by age? Let’s do this.

Awake Time Cycles by Age: birth to 1 year

This timeline is generally structured on a normal, on-time delivery. If your baby was born a few weeks early, then you may need to adjust the timeline for when your baby was due, rather than actual birth.

And if your cutie is a preemie or a micro-preemie, you’ll be in the same boat: use expected birth or due date rather than the actual age. When in doubt, ask your Labor & Delivery or NICU nurse for help – especially if you’re still in the hospital. Because, really. That’s what we love to do – is help parents like you!

Newborn Wake Times (first two weeks)

With newborns, most of their “play” time is going to be used to do their favorite activity: EAT. And if they’re super talented like my munchkins, they might keep practice eating (suckling) while they sleep, too.

In any case, newborns don’t do much other than eat, sleep, and pee/poop. That’s totally normal. Use that awake time to feed them so that they get the sleep they need to keep growing.

Here’s the cycle breakdown, based on averages:

  • Total cycle length: 2-3 hours
  • Newborn awake time: just long enough to eat
  • Number of naps needed: too many to bother counting
  • Recommended bedtime: 9:30 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 16-20 hours
  • Notes: Some newborns do need to be woken up to feed. Others don’t. This will depend on age, development, and tons of other factors. Watch how your baby is growing and remember to consult with your pediatrician for specifics.

Newborn Awake Times (next 3-6 weeks)

By a few weeks old, most babies start to do some fun things – like looking around for a bit before wanting to nurse (or feed) and zonk back out for nap #2815 for the day.

It’s super tempting to keep a baby up to “play” at this age, but… don’t do it. They still need crazy amounts of sleep, so stick to the schedule.

  • Total cycle length: 2.5-3 hours
  • Newborn awake time: long enough to eat with some play time (30-60 minutes)
  • Number of naps needed: still too many to bother counting
  • Recommended bedtime: 9:30 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 16-20 hours
  • Notes: Some newborns at this age may still need to be woken up to feed. Others don’t. This will depend on age, development, and tons of other factors. Watch how your baby is growing and remember to consult with your pediatrician for specifics.

Infant Wake Times (2-3 months old)

If your baby’s like mine, they’re going to be ready for more play time at this age! And one of the best types of play that they need – but don’t want – is tummy time.

Guess what? Tummy time is so much fun!

No Parent Ever, at least not at first

They’ll learn to like it, though. At least, mine did after a while – and they learned to hold their heads up. Other great play ideas at this age are swing time, going on walks in strollers, and looking around at cool things, like mobiles.

  • Total cycle length: 2.5-3 hours
  • Awake time: 1-1.5 hours
  • Number of naps needed: too many to bother counting
  • Recommended bedtime: 8-9 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 15-18 hours
  • Notes: Swaddling our kids was still on our radar at this age.

Baby Awake Cycle (4-5 months old)

Okay, so 2 hours doesn’t sound like a long time to be awake, but for a 4-5-month-old? It’s an eternity. They can play a lot more fun stuff, though, so have fun watching them watch their environment, learn to roll over (it’s terrifying at first!), and more.

Just remember that all of this stimulation is exhausting! So if your baby needs some quieter play to keep from catching a second wind (or becoming overstimulated) that would mess with sleep times, do it.

Sometime in here, your baby’s naps will consolidate, too. So watch for that.

  • Total cycle length: 3-4 hours
  • Awake time: 2 hours
  • Number of naps needed: 3
  • Recommended bedtime: 7-8 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 14-16 hours
  • Notes: Somewhere in here, our babies began to escape swaddling – so we transitioned them out of it. Especially once they learned to roll over! This transition is NOT easy. At least, it wasn’t for us – it took a week or two to normalize things.

Baby Wake Time (6 months)

Wake up and play time gets extended! Woo hoo! For us, this is when having a baby became so much more fun, just based on how much more interactive things get. So much more playing, too!

If your baby’s like mine, some days will be 2 nap days and others will be 3 nap days – at least until they’re adjusted to the 2 nap days. Just know it’s not one-and-done graduation to 2 naps – seriously. I wish someone had told me that because it would have saved me so much stress!

  • Total cycle length: 4-4.5 hours
  • Wake time: 2-3 hours
  • Number of naps needed: 2-3
  • Recommended bedtime: 7-8 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 14-15 hours
  • Notes: Binky tethers are totally an amazing thing. Baby still can’t quite manage it on their own, but they’re catching on.

Baby Schedule (7-9 months)

Our kids became a lot more mobile at this stage – lots more sitting, crawling attempts, and trying to eat all the things.

This is when we transitioned our kids into their own cribs.

  • Total cycle length: 4.5-5 hours
  • Wake time: 2.5-3.5
  • Number of naps needed: 2
  • Recommended bedtime: 7-8 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 14-15 hours
  • Notes: This is when we had to implement our first real sleep training plan with our kids – at least, this is when it actually worked.

Baby’s Wake Time Schedule (10-12 months)

Somewhere in here, depending on your child, they’re going to want to graduate to one nap. But, just like when things went from 3 naps to 2, it’s going to take some time. Remember to alternate days – do some with 2. Then do a couple with just 1 nap. Do every other day if you need to!

Even so, this age is fun. Especially because this is when our kids were finally sleeping all night (okay, so they were down to waking 1-2 times to nurse really quickly, but that was it!).

  • Total cycle length: 4.5-5 hours
  • Wake time: 3-5.5
  • Number of naps needed: 1-2
  • Recommended bedtime: 7-8 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 12-14 hours
  • Notes: Our babies were late teethers, so this is when they finally got teeth! When baby’s teething, expect a few rough nights until the teeth erupt. Then, things should settle down – at least until the next tooth comes in!

Awake Time Cycles by Age: from 1-3 years of age

After one, I noticed that the awake time cycles had mostly gone away. Instead, they were replaced by a more set schedule – one that we set.

Here’s the schedule we set:

  • 7 AM: wake up, eat breakfast, go play.
  • 10:30 AM: give in to cute kids begging for snacks.
  • 11:30 AM: lunch time!
  • 12:30 PM: nap time for the toddler
  • 3 PM: wake up, eat a snack, and get back to playing with the siblings
  • 5:30 PM: dinner time
  • 6:30 PM: bedtime ritual begins, with lights out at 7 PM

And by this age, my kids were able to go with it.

More on the schedules we used after this age.

But… let’s keep the trend going with a list to make things easy, shall we?

  • Total cycle length: set schedule
  • Wake time: by schedule
  • Number of naps needed: 1-2
  • Recommended bedtime: 7-8 PM
  • Daily Sleep Requirements: 11-13 hours
  • Notes: Every kid is different! Some kids nap until they’re 5 or 8 – others are done before 2. It’s going to depend on your family’s needs, scheduling, and other factors.

You’ll notice something… They are more focused on bedtimes for one majorly important reason.

By 15 months of age, my oldest boy stopped napping.

Now, that’s not a common thing, but it does happen. So we had to shift to focusing on bedtimes in order to ensure he got enough sleep. Thankfully, he was the only one with such a fear of missing out that he quit napping that early. My youngest napped the longest – she still takes occasional naps at 2, but they’re not reliable.

In fact, they’re downright rare. But that’s okay. Because by focusing on bedtime routines, they can make it all day and are pleasant most of the day.

And it makes parenting a lot more fun when we all get the sleep we need to function.

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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