Emily Oster

6 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Are Newborn Wake Windows Real?

How to understand baby sleep schedules

Emily Oster

6 min Read

Is there anything to the idea of newborn wake windows?

This question is easy to ask, but it holds volumes about the struggles of the first months of parenting.

For one thing, this is a question with a lot of contentious online discussion. “Wake windows” are closely related to baby schedules. Some people swear by baby schedules! Some people think that putting your baby on any kind of schedule makes you a monster. The only thing for sure is that whatever you do, you’re doing it wrong.

The idea of wake windows also feeds into our unmet desire for control. It is extremely hard to face the fact that your baby is just random in their behavior. Whether through data collection or not, for many of us the first months of parenting are a blur of attempting to make sense of some relationship between inputs and outputs. How many minutes, precisely, did the baby nurse before that one magical night they slept through? If we kept them up for exactly 45 minutes, does that translate to a longer nap?

What does the data say about wake windows?

For those of you who are scratching your heads and have no idea what I’m talking about… A “wake window” is the amount of time that a child should be awake between naps. This varies across age. For example, if we say that a wake window for a newborn is 40 minutes, that means that a newborn should be awake for 40 minutes maximum between naps. There are wake windows for older children and, presumably, for adults. But this is most frequently discussed in the context of babies, where the sleep schedule is more uncertain.

There are at least two versions of the question “Does the data support this?”

First: we could ask whether there is good data pointing to a particular number for these windows. The answer there is absolutely not. One way to see this is that different sleep advice websites cite wildly different numbers — from 30 minutes to 60 minutes for a newborn. There is no organized data that experiments with different lengths of wake windows.

Moreover, based on what we know about sleep, there is no reason to think that these wake windows would be the same for all babies. Even if there were good information on some average length, it would not be directly applicable to everyone.

Second: we can ask a more general question of whether there is data to support the idea that babies can only be awake for some set amount of time.

This is an example of a question that needs to be more carefully posed. One version of it is to ask whether babies can just be awake all the time. The answer to that is obviously no. A second version is whether it matters overall how much sleep babies get. There, we can rely on a tremendous amount of data on older kids and adults, which makes clear that sleep is extremely important and that not getting enough of it impedes functioning. Consistently getting too little sleep can lead to an “overtired” baby — basically, a baby who is sleep-deprived and cranky, similar to a sleep-deprived and cranky toddler.

A more precise form of this question is whether you need to adhere to the idea of a fixed window. Is it better for babies to be on a schedule where they are awake only for this maximum period, or is it better for them to have a schedule that varies — sometimes 20 minutes of awake time, sometimes three hours?

Stated precisely like this, it is possible to ask about data. The answer is that there is no data that speaks to this choice. Sometimes when we do not have data (like on breast milk storage), I find it surprising and frustrating. Here, it doesn’t feel surprising because it’s hard to imagine a study. What is the outcome: behavior? crying? parental happiness? With older kids and sleep, you can do testing to see whether lack of sleep affects test scores; newborn IQ testing is notoriously difficult.

The combination of the difficulty defining the outcome, the probable difficulty of getting parents to adhere to the treatment, and the challenge of even defining what, precisely, the treatment is makes this study seem very unlikely.

Pulling this together, I conclude that we do not have precise data and that we are unlikely ever to get it and even if you did see some study about average wake windows, you wouldn’t really be able to use it with your baby.

How do I know how long to keep my baby awake between naps?

Where does this leave us? Does it mean the wake window approach makes no sense? No. Where it leaves us is in the same place that we often are with early parenting: there are many good choices, and you have to do what works for you.

Here is how I might approach this:

Things that are true

  • Babies need a lot of sleep.
  • Sleep should be a priority. Things that are not a priority include keeping the baby up so they can entertain guests.
  • There are signs of being tired (yawning, starting to get fussy) that indicate a need to go to sleep.

Choices

There are a lot of ways to organize the infant months that can result in babies getting enough sleep.

The idea of wake windows is one way to organize. Given a structure of “this is about how much awake time I expect,” you can outline the timing of the day around that. You can add onto this with something like an EASY schedule, which tries to provide some vague structure to the awake periods.

For many people, this type of structure is helpful in knowing what to expect. We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking we have control, but this is a way to feel a little bit less crazy. It requires some experimentation — babies differ some in how long they’ll be awake — but the basic outlines are there.

This type of structure doesn’t appeal to everyone! An alternative approach of paying attention to when your baby seems tired and putting them to sleep at that time, even if it is not closely tied to a wake window schedule — that is also completely reasonable.

Bottom line

To return to the question: Are wake windows real? In a sense: yes. Babies cannot be awake forever, and they have a sleep cycle that is somewhat organized.

What is not true is that it is necessary to adhere to a particular schedule. If the idea of wake windows works for you, that’s awesome. But if you do not want to be in a fixed structure like this, that is okay too.

As long as you remember that sleep is important and that, when the grandparents say the baby “doesn’t look tired,” they do not know anything, so just ignore.

3 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Amanda
1 month ago

The most important thing I learned when I had my babies was that you need to prep them for naps before they show signs of tiredness. If you wait until they are obviously fatigued, they may be overtired and harder to put down.

Bklyncyclone83
1 month ago
Reply to  Amanda
1 month ago

We heard this from our pediatrician within the first month! And it’s true.

Bklyncyclone83
1 month ago
Reply to  Bklyncyclone83
1 month ago

Side note but not really side note: we’ve always used wake windows with our child (now 2) and it works very well for him! We know how many hours he has to be awake before he’ll go to sleep within a reasonable amount of time and those numbers of hours pretty much structures our entire daily routine. We have no idea what else we could have used to make a routine. It’s not like keeping them up longer benefits anyone! And yet I see family members doing other things and struggling with poor child sleep. Not surprisingly.

An infant sleeps soundly

Jan 02 2023

7 min read

Is There a Best Method for Sleep Training?

A best age?

Emily Oster
A mobile made of colorful origami fish on a white background.

Sep 16 2022

3 min read

Is It Better to Co-Sleep or Sleep Train a One-Year-Old

Co-sleeping with a 1-year-old or sleep train them in their own space? I actually like co-sleeping, but are there reasons Read more

Emily Oster
A white electric fan against a gray background.

Apr 28 2023

2 min read

Is It Dangerous for My Baby to Sleep in a Hot Room?

It’s 89 degrees in early April in NYC right now. Our 8.5-month-old’s room doesn’t have a window AC unit, so Read more

Emily Oster
A young boy sleeping face down on a pillow reaches over to turn off a yellow alarm clock.

Jun 01 2023

8 min read

Your Child Is Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep, as a phenomenon, is extremely interesting. All animals sleep, or have a form of sleep-like resting state. Sometimes they Read more

Emily Oster

Instagram

left right
Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET 
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
...

The list of what not to do while pregnant feels longer than a CVS receipt. At ParentData, we want to empower you to make the right decisions for you. 

What an amazing group of women, and an honor to speak at the #MomsFirstSummit debunking parenting myths. 

What are some pregnancy rules you chose to bend after being empowered by data?

#emilyoster #parentdata #pregnancyproblems #pregnancymyths

The list of what not to do while pregnant feels longer than a CVS receipt. At ParentData, we want to empower you to make the right decisions for you.

What an amazing group of women, and an honor to speak at the #MomsFirstSummit debunking parenting myths.

What are some pregnancy rules you chose to bend after being empowered by data?

#emilyoster #parentdata #pregnancyproblems #pregnancymyths
...

Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected. 

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips

Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected.

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips
...

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻 ...

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
...

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone. 

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone.

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle
...

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster
...

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory
...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76. 

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76.

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife
...

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster
...

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy. 

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy.

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙
...