Very often one of the many aspects to consider when solving sleep challenges for your little one are their wakeful windows.
What do I mean by this?
Children’s sleep needs are ever changing and evolving, and their wakeful window is no exception. A wakeful window is the maximum amount of awake time during the day from when they woke from their last slept, until their next nap. Babies and children who are constantly awake longer than their wakeful windows will start to suffer from overtiredness, and this is the culprit to so many sleep issues.
To identify your child’s wakeful window here are my top tips:
Don’t wait for the sleepy signs
If you wait until your child starts to yawn or rub their eyes then it’s very likely you have already missed their optimum sleep window. Well-meaning friends or relatives may say things like ‘they don’t even look tired yet!’ – that’s OK, you know what your child’s window is and when they need to go to sleep.
Very often the super alert little ones won’t even show you sleepy signs – they hide them so well that you could go all day waiting for them! All the while they are in serious overtired territory, which has huge impact on their night-time sleep, and then the downwards spiral of sleep begins.
Find that sweet spot
There is a ’30 minute sweet spot’ which is when your child will settle more easily to sleep, sleep for longer, and have a more restorative sleep overall.
If you try to put them to bed before this time, they will not be tired enough and if you miss this slot they will be overtired and likely either battle sleep or not sleep for very long.
To find it takes some trial and error but once you do find it, use it. It will change, as their sleep needs evolve, but keep on top it and you will find naps and bedtime far easier.
Adjust their window based on prior sleep
If a nap isn’t its usual length e.g. if your child is a on a 2 nap a day routine and normally sleeps 1.5hrs but it has only been 45mins. Whereas their normal wakeful window length might be 3hrs, reduce it; so next nap is a bit sooner than normal, which will help make up for lost sleep in previous nap. And should the second nap fall short too, then put them to bed early.
This stops overtiredness building up, which is when all the problems start!
I always talk about consistency, which is paramount, but you can be flexible with yourself and your child. Know your timings and have that in your head, but don’t be so regimented that you stress yourself out.
Your child will have off days and that is normal – maybe it’s too hot or cold, they are feeling poorly, they’re teething or things just don’t go to plan. That’s OK, you can roll with those times by understanding roughly what they need.
If they have a few late nights, that’s OK too, you can compensate with nap time, or if they fall asleep in the car (as long as it’s not for too long too late in the day), go with it. Or just do early bedtimes if they do not nap anymore.
If you have clarity around what your child needs and what you are aiming for, but flexibility around it, their sleep (and yours) shouldn’t go far wrong.