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Hey, hey!

I'm Michele DiSpirito

I've been where you are.

Tired. No. Exhausted! Frustrated and confused as to what to do with an adorable little one that just. won't. sleep.

I'm a mom to three boys ages 6 and under, wife to Kyle for 17 years, and all about getting some good sleep for us all! While struggling to make sleep consistent and a reality with my oldest, I scoured the internet for answers and was left more frustrated and confused than when I started. I wanted a clear path; someone I trusted to just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when. What I wanted was what I'm here to be for you today - a Pediatric Sleep Consultant.

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When and How to Use Sleep Cues, Wake Windows, and a Set Schedule

You know your baby needs to sleep, but when do they need to sleep?

Do you follow their sleep cues, wake windows, or a set clock schedule?

Depending on the age of your little one, at some point, the answer will be, “Yes.”

Here’s a brief breakdown of sleep cues, wake windows, and set clock schedules and when to use each to know the optimal time to get your little one in bed.

What is a sleep cue and when are they followed?

A sleep cue is any type of showing that your child gives you that they are tired.

Think of the cues like a stoplight.

Green cues are the cues that are very subtle and sometimes easy to go unnoticed. But they are the first signs of your little one showing that they’re starting to get tired. Some examples are zoning out, yawning, heaviness in their body, and then being quieter and not interacting as much as usual.

Yellow cues are the ones that are more obvious and let you know it’s time to expedite the routine; it's time to be getting into bed. Some examples are rubbing their eyes, pulling at their face, fussing, squirming, and clenching their fists.

Lastly, the red cues are the ones that show that they’re beyond tired, they've hit over tiredness and there's a chance it's gonna be a little bit harder for them to fall asleep. Some examples are scream-crying, red eyebrows, stiffening of their limbs, and flailing about.

These sleep cues are very helpful in the newborn days and are pretty good at showing you that your baby is actually tired. Beyond the newborn days, a lot of these cues aren't super dependable. That doesn’t mean they're obsolete beyond the newborn days, they're still going to tell you they’re tired, but they won’t necessarily tell you that you have to get your child to bed right away like they do in the newborn days.

So sleep cues are good to follow during the newborn days. Newborns need to sleep a lot and often so when you see a sleep cue, it’s best to get them to sleep because those few minutes really matter. But once they're older, they're able to stay awake a bit longer without as much issue, so you don't need to follow the sleep cues quite so closely. You might just need to do a slightly earlier nap time or an earlier bedtime.

What are wake windows and when are they used?

A wake window is simply the amount of time that your baby is awake between sleep times.

I like to use wake windows even for the newborn days as well, but as I said, sometimes their sleep cues show that they need to be going to sleep a little bit sooner than their “window”.

With four-month-olds and older, we focus more on wake windows than their sleep cues.

The reason we use wake windows instead of always going to a set schedule is wake windows allow for more grace than that set schedule. Everyone's sleep needs vary and wake windows allow for that.

Wake windows vary each month or every few months, and most children do fit into those ranges. And because the wake windows are ranges, there’s flexibility and the opportunity to learn what your child specifically needs. This is where those sleep cues can be beneficial in helping you understand where your child falls within the range of higher or lower sleep needs.

As an example, five-month-olds’ wake windows are 2 to 2.5 hours. So the most they’ll be awake at any given time is 2.5 hours, but not every wake window will necessarily be that long. Most children do better with the shorter end of the range for their first wake window (the time between when they get up for the day to the time they go down for their first nap) and slightly longer wake times for each subsequent wake window wake, but none ever exceeding the longest end of the range. So a five-month-old’s day may look something like this:

7am wake up

Awake for 2 hours

9-10am nap

Awake for 2 hours

12-1:30pm nap

Awake for 2 hours

3:30-4:30pm nap

Wake for 2.5 hours

7pm bed

Now on the flip side, there are some children that do better with a longer first wake window and a shorter wake window before bed. Something like:

7am wake up

Awake for 2.25 hours

9:15-10:15am nap

Awake 2 hours

12:15-2pm nap

Awake 2.5 hours

4:30-5pm nap

Awake 2 hours

7pm bed

Again, this is where grace comes in, learning what your child needs and playing around with the schedule. It takes some trial and error and, of course, some patience. You don’t want to be changing wake window lengths every day, it takes a few days to really get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. But since most children do better with the shorter wake window at the beginning of the day and gradually increase the amount of time awake with each wake window, start there.

Need to know what the best wake windows are for your little one?

What are set schedules and when are they used?

A set nap schedule is ideal for children on 2 or fewer naps.

You use a set “wake for the day” time and age-appropriate wake windows to determine the set schedule. Then you'll stick to that nap schedule from day to day instead of doing math every day, all day.

At this age, children can handle a little bit of over and under tiredness without it wrecking their sleep for the day or night, unlike a newborn or a small baby. This doesn’t mean that if they’re showing those sleep cues that are telling you they’re tired that you’ll ignore them, it just means that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and get them to bed right away. You might have to bring nap time or bedtime sooner a little bit, but the schedule doesn’t need to be completely changed.

That brings me to bedtime. Bedtime should not be set in stone because even though their naptime starts are going to be the same every day. There may be some variability in how much they actually sleep in the day, their activity level, and anything else that can play into how tired or not tired they may be. So, having a flexible bedtime will help them catch up on any lost sleep or prevent any sort of overtiredness.

An example of a 2-nap schedule is:

7am wake up

9:30-11am nap

1:30-3:30 nap

3 hours until bedtime (6:30pm in this case)

Need to know what the best wake windows are for your little one so you can set their schedule?

In Conclusion

So that's the quick rundown of sleep cues, wake windows and set clock schedules. One doesn’t really replace the other, but adds to it; they build upon each other!

I understand how overwhelming baby sleep can be and I’d love to help you overcome the overwhelm! For more information about working with me, you can check out what I offer here or schedule a free 15-minute call to find the package that will work best for your family.

>> Just need to know what the best wake windows are for your little one? Take this free, short quiz to find out! <<


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