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Are You Keeping Baby Awake Too Long?

Are You Keeping Baby Awake Too Long?

One of the most commonly held baby myths is that, “babies will sleep when they are tired.”  Life would be simpler if it were true….but it’s not. Helping your baby fall asleep, figuring out when they need to sleep, and making sure they get enough sleep is pretty much the bane of every new parent.

How long should your baby be awake?

Newborn babies generally sleep a lot (according to Dr. Weissbluth newborns average between 11 – 18 hours of sleep per 24-hour period). However baby sleep is generally broken up into 7-8 “naps” varying in length from 15 minutes to 4-6 hours.

Most newborn babies (under 8 weeks) can’t stay awake very long (I sometimes refer to this as a baby’s “window of wakefulness.”) Although it varies by baby, most newborns can stay awake no longer than 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Some may not be able to stay awake more than 30 minutes at a time. This is generally the maximum amount of time you want your baby to be awake at any point throughout the day.

So hypothetically this means that if your newborn baby wakes up from a nap at noon, she will need to go back down for another nap around 12:45. Assume she takes a 30-minute nap and then wakes up (now its 1:15 pm). Then she would be ready to take yet another nap at approximately 2:00 pm.

As babies get older their window of wakefulness (maximum time they can stay awake) gets longer, the naps generally get longer, and the number of naps they need gradually decreases and becomes more predictable.

How do you figure out how long your baby should stay awake?

A few newborn babies will fall asleep after a certain amount of time no matter how hard you try to keep them awake. Some babies will give very good clues that they are tired so you can settle them down to sleep as soon as they look a little glazed over, rub their eyes, yawn, etc. Some will stay awake far longer than their bodes can handle. You’ll know THIS is your baby if they stay awake for 1.5 hours or longer and then have a grand mal meltdown.

You’ll know you’ve figured out how long your baby should stay awake when she falls asleep really easily. If it’s a struggle to help her fall asleep (assuming something like hunger, tummy gas, etc. isn’t preventing her from falling asleep) you’re either trying too soon, or you’re trying too late.

As a general rule you should use the guidelines in the table below. I know you’ve been told “all babies are different” but in my experience almost ALL babies fall within these guidelines. Thus if your baby is vastly off the grid that I’m suggesting here, you probably have an overtired baby on your hands.

Baby Age Time between Naps Nap Duration Number of Naps per Day
Birth – 6 weeks 45 min – 1 hour 15 minutes – 4 hours  4-8
6 Weeks – 3 Months  1 hour – 1 hour 45 minutes  30 minutes – 2 hours  3-5
3 Months – 6 Months  ~2 Hours  30 minutes – 2 hours  3-4
6 Months – 9 Months  2-3 hours  1-3 hours  3
9 Months – 12 Months  ~3 hours 1-2 hours  2

Is Your Baby Awake TOO Long?

Probably.
Most parents keep their baby awake too long. It’s the #1 most common baby sleep mistake. People might tell you, “My baby just doesn’t need that much sleep.” Um….no. Just because they’re not sleeping doesn’t mean they don’t need to sleep. If your newborn baby is awake for 6 hour chunks of time during the day you have a sleep problem. It’s OK, it happens to the best of us. But let’s acknowledge it and work on fixing it rather than assuming that your baby is just different.

Most babies will let you know they’ve been awake too long because they’ll become fussy and difficult to soothe. Very happy babies will sometimes throw us a curve by hiding the fact that they are overtired by remaining calm and happy even when they’ve been up for a very long time (1.5 hours or longer). However you generally don’t want to keep your baby up for long windows of time (regardless of how delightful they are) because regardless of their behavior – overtired babies sleep poorly.

So put on your baby detective sleep hat and play around with your window of wakefulness. Once you’ve figured it out you can pretty much use that as a gauge throughout the day.

How long will your baby sleep?

Anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours. Some pediatricians will advise you to wake up your baby for scheduled feedings for a few days/weeks after they are born (this is common with preemies or other babies that might need a little extra love and food for a while) but once you get the green light from your pediatrician, you generally shouldn’t wake sleeping babies.

Should your baby be kept awake longer after longer naps?

No.

How long your little one can stay awake should remain relatively consistent throughout the day (the one exception to this rule is during the Witching Hours – see below.)

What about “Cat Naps”?

Little babies are notorious for nodding off for a few minutes here and there. The most common complaint is that they’ll fall asleep for a few minutes while nursing but then wake right up again when the breast is removed. Was this a real nap? Or do we wait for another hour before trying to put them down again?

Every baby is different but as a general rule, anything ~10 minutes or longer constitutes a REAL nap. Meaning if your baby falls asleep while nursing and then hangs out there for 10 minutes (lets face it we all do this from time to time) you will likely need to wait for an hour (or whatever your baby’s window is) before trying to put her down for a nap again. Similarly if she falls asleep for 10 minutes on the way home from the mall, you will have to wait an hour to try to put her down for a nap.

Some babies transfer well from the car well – they can be removed from the car while sleeping and continue to sleep happily in their car seat which is now sitting in the living room. If this is your baby, lucky you! If not you have two choices:

  • Accept the occasional car “cat nap” as part of life.
  • Plan for the car “cat nap” by bringing a nice latte and magazine with you. When your baby falls asleep in the car, park somewhere comfortable, leave the car running, and enjoy some quiet time while she sleeps.

What is the “Witching Hour”?

For most babies the Witching Hour(s) fall somewhere around 5:00 – 11:00 pm. This is a time of day where babies are generally fussy and will stay awake for a longer period of time. Thus it would not be unusual to have a newborn baby who is awake but generally unhappy from 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm. After this long window of being fussy and awake, most babies will then have their longest period of sleep (2-4 hour for a baby who is only a few weeks old, 3-6 hours for a baby who is 1-3 months old).

This is generally the ONLY exception to the window of wakefulness. So if you find your baby fighting sleep in the evening, it may simply mean that you have found your witching hour. While this can be exhausting as most parents are running out of steam at this time of night, it’s totally normal.

If, however, you find your newborn baby staying awake for 2-3 hours at a time at other times during the day, she probably needs additional help falling asleep or there is some unknown factor which is keeping her awake. Don’t be too quick to assume that “your baby is simply different” or that “she needs less sleep.”

Note: You can find an overview of baby and kid sleep by age here. It includes the average amount of time babies can stay awake between naps. At the bottom of the post you can download a printable version to keep as a cheat sheet. How cool is that?
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409 Comments


  1. Help! I really think I’ve had enough. My little one is no longer little as such as she’s 9.5months. We’ve struggled with naps and sleeps which feels like forever! We have had big changes ofovinf house which made an impact originally. Ok…so she used to only nap after having a breastfeed. Now she no longer wants a breast feed naps never happen in the cot. She just screams and I have tried cry it out for an hour and then give in. I reverted to the pram or car for naps which was working but now she just screams in them. Sometimes like this morning she wakes early and was up at 5:30 but has just screamed and refused to sleep in all 3 options (cot/car/ pram) and its 11! She did this yesterday and eventual passed out on me for 1.5hours at 11-12:30 but then refused to have an afternoon nap. Consequently our already bad nights of wakening atleast twice was made worse with an additional cry out. She does go off to sleep at bedtime well-ish (between 7-7:30) do atleast we have that! Also a recent thing for her is refusing the breast so I’ve been offering formula instead so don’t know if this has an impact. Sorry for my ramblings but any advice would be much appreciated!
    Thanks Emma x

  2. I keep reading not to let your baby become overtired and to listen to their cues, but I can’t find any advice on HOW to get baby to sleep when they give these cues. How do we get a baby who have these daytime naps to prevent over tiredness??
    I also feel there is conflicting advice (not on this site but many different things I’ve read) about daytime napping. Should the baby be in their room/a quiet place to nap? Or in a louder, more public place to help them distinguish day from night? Please help. I am confused, tired, and dealing with an overtired baby.

    • -Once they give the cues, start your soothing routine (dim lights, white noise, swaddle, sing, whatever you do) and put them down.
      -They should definitely be in a quiet place to nap. The loud ‘public place to help them distinguish day from night’ is for awake/activity time during the day.

    • We struggled with this. Had a lightbulb moment when I first read this site in desperation at 6 weeks. My daughter took one long (3 hour) nap at about 2pm and no others from about 8:30 am to 9:00 pm. And woke every 45 minutes at night. We realised we had to get daytime naps sorted first – and started recognising her sleepy cues ( for her rubbing eyes and “tired” cry.) But to get her to nap? Seemed impossible. We started to keep a close eye out on her at about the times suggested in the table as time between naps. Then as soon as she seemed tired we pushed her in her pram or put her in a sling and rocked her, anything to get her to sleep. We found she would accept a dummy (pacifier) from 5 weeks after total gagging refusal before this, and that was our secret weapon. From a baby who screamed rather than slept in the car or pram with patience and a dummy she would. I set myself a target of one week to get her napping better in the day to try and help her nighttime sleep. It took about ten days to get her napping about twice a day. Since then she now falls asleep fairly easily in her pram for her naps if I time it right. She has gone from one massive nap to 3-4 shorter ones ( 4 if her late morning one is a short one and she needs to fit another in to get to bedtime) and it suits her much better – she’s a much happier girl. It may have helped that after a week we started working on her falling asleep in her cot not on us. I remember crying reading “put her down drowsy but awake” and that seemed mythical. Alexis gave me hope by not guilt tripping me that I had to do that immediately with a newborn, which in turn meant I felt I could tackle it. I did it at my mums house so there was someone to take her so I could nap in the day between feeds so that I had the strength to do it. And instead of cuddling her to sleep I lay her in her cot and patted, shushed and intermittently cuddled her back to calm. The dummy helps there too! It took 90 mins EVERY feed the first night and 45 mins every feed the second and 5-10 the third. And she really didn’t cry too much, more sad grumbling interspersed with crying. But it helped her to fall asleep at nap times and after night feeds, which revolutionised my life as I could put her down after a feed and go back to bed instead of holding her till she was deeply asleep then trying to put her down and more often having to start again. It means I’m awake about 30 mins average each feed rather than 90. She’s still a rubbish sleeper (wakes 4 times a night for feeds at 4 months and sometimes for dummy reinsert ions on top of that) but I am sane and can actually smile and do some things in th daytime. I need to tackle the dummy next, but waiting to go to mums again next month! Am hoping that will help her to go back to sleep without needing me to feed or settl her in tonight. She manages fine on her own to go to sleep first thing at night without us in the room – but not if her dummy falls out! Have courage mums of th world, if my baby can improve so can yours.

  3. Hi there, I am a working mom , with a 4 month old son, who is BFing. He sleeps pretty well at night, 8ish to around 3am then to 6-7am. My problem is nap time during the day. I try and have the baby sitter follow a schedule, so I can feed my son right before I go to work and I right when I get home at 4:30. So she is suppose to feed him around 10:30 and at 1:30. Problem is that when she puts him down for a nap, he tends to sleep over 2 hours and misses his scheduled meal times. Eventually this led to him not sleeping well at night so I asked her to wake him up if he went over an hour past his feeding time or had been sleeping for over 2 hours. He is back to sleeping okay at night, but it has been a month now and she is still having to wake him to eat. Is this okay, or should I just let him over sleep? I thought by now he would have adjusted!

  4. I am going to kindly disagree. Some babies do need less sleep than others- that is on most websites. My baby is sadly one of those babies, but he is so happy and content all of the time. He does not show a single indication that he is tired – and I’ve researched a lot of them. He is 9 months now and is up for 6-7 hours at a time. He is sleeping a total of 12-13 hours a day. Most sites say the average number of hours a 9 month old needs is 14, but that babies can fall 2 hours above or below. However, to get this amount of sleep, the baby literally needs to be awake more than 3 hours at a time. I also think that newborn babies will sleep when they are tired if given the opportunity and they are in a calm, safe environment (like snuggled with their mom). When they are older they seem to need more effort made. this “modern” idea that we need to regiment and dictate every area of a new baby’s schedule is kinda ridiculous. If we would just do what came naturally and followed our instincts we all would be happier, more well rested with happier babies rather than coming up with rule after rule to try and dictate their schedule.

    • Well it seems like you’ve found a solution that works for your family which is really what we’re ALL trying to do. And that’s awesome!

      But as others will likely read this I do want to point out a few things for clarification:
      – Most 9 month olds cannot stay awake longer than 4 hours max. What happens when they’re awake for longer stretches is that the sleep pressure continues to build and cortisol levels rise. Now not all babies give outward signs that their cortisol levels are rising – some babies are just extremely pleasant and adaptive. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. And typically elevated cortisol leads to less sleep because it’s a stimulant.
      – Also I take issue with the hint that I’m suggesting that parents dictate every area of a baby’s schedule. Truthfully I think I make fairly flexible suggestions here. The reality for many families is that babies won’t just nod off to sleep when they’re tired and the whole “They’ll sleep when they’re ready” chestnut has sent many a family down a bad path. So while your baby in particular has responded to this approach, I would wouldn’t criticizes others who have done things different because the vast majority of babies WON’T just nod off when they’re ready and assuming that they WILL leads to chronic sleep deprivation all around.

      • Thanks alexis my baby is definitely one of the ones you describe – letting her dictate when she slept led to very little sleeping! And she really needs to. We don’t have a fixed schedule as such but she has regulated herself into one. You absolutely can be responsive and flexible for a baby and still encourage them to nap. My daughter needed to be taught HOW to fall asleep when tired. Following my instincts and doing what came naturally was absolute failure! Thanks, I totally agree with you and love your site.

      • Well…

        One day is well, everyone can survive this.

        One and a half days, your health is at low risk, well… Starting to pose risk to your brain health, cause sleeping helps your DNA to repair itself.

        Two and a half days, hallucination can happen, like smeared vision… You will have difficulty doing your job, and it’ll be hard to think out of the box.

        Four days, this can be like blurred vision and like that. Well… Some people feel headache at this stage, as well as serious health risks.

        Seven days, death.

        For sleep:

        10 hrs- Well awake.
        09 hrs- Good enough for a hard job like mining.
        08 hrs- Standard for most people.
        07 hrs- For early work at the dawns.
        06 hrs- Makes you feel a bit drowsy.
        05 hrs- Minimum to play PC, and have clear vision.
        04 hrs- Minimum for most people.
        03 hrs- Minimum for me.

  5. I realize this article is a couple years old, so I hope it’s still notifying you of comments!!

    I have a question which will likely make lots of mamas want to punch me in the nose, and I totally get that! My 2 month old sleeps really well at night, anywhere from 8-10 hours, with a couple of 11 hour nights thrown in here and there. I don’t know how this is happening (other than constant prayer for a good sleeper the whole time I was pregnant), but I am NOT complaining. My question is, does this change the amount of time she needs to nap, or lengthen the time she should go between naps? She’s not very consistent with her naps, and they are often only 30 min or so. I am glad to trade day time sleeping for the peaceful nights, but I don’t want to be keeping her awake too much during the day if she needs more sleep.

    • I still get notifications of ALL comments, but jump in on old posts far less frequently 😛

      No this doesn’t change anything. So if your 2 month old can only comfortably stay awake 1.5 hours between naps, that shouldn’t be stretched out because she’s a champion night sleeper.

      PS. Enjoy the fantastic night sleep! I would take that over chunky naps any day 🙂

  6. Hi Alexis,

    First, I LOVE your site. It has made me feel so much better about my son’s sleep! I do have a question about short naps and wake times. My son is 4 months old and still only naps for around 30 mins at a time. He seems tired based on his cues after around 1.5 hours (or less) most days. This means that we often have 5 short naps a day. A typical day will be naps at 9, 11, 1, 3, and 5. He will occasionally surprise me with a 45-50 minute nap and they are coming more frequently but still are not the norm so it’s hard to drop that late nap if we want him in bed for the night later than 5:30.

    He sleeps from about 7pm to 7:30am with one or two feeds in the night. What I’m wondering is whether I should push him past his obviously tired cues during the day to get to only 3-4 naps a day as this is what I read is appropriate for his age. It does seem harder to get him down when I stretch his wake times but I’m struggling with the 5 naps a day. Or, should I be putting him to bed earlier until his naps consolidate (please, oh please God let them consolidate!).
    Any advice would be so appreciated! Thank you!!!

    • PS: he can pretty much put himself to sleep with minimal shushing at this point after a few weeks of pick up/put down. Not sure if this is relevant but wanted to mention it just in case.

  7. Great advice. But please look into positional asphyxiation. One should never leave a newborn napping in a car seat. It can (and sometimes) does lead to death. Please, please stop advocating for parents to put their children at risk. It’s not worth another minute of quiet.

    • I’ll grant you this 3+ year old post could use some updating based on more recent research. The amendment would address preemies and very young babies where positional asphyxiation is a risk. But for healthy full-term babies older than a few weeks old, the occasional car nap (for most) is simply something that will happen. I’m not advocating for them because they want a another minute of quiet, but because if you’re traveling with children in the car, they’re going to happen.

  8. Thank you for this article! After just one day of intentionally putting my 10-day-old down for more naps, she slept much better last night. I hadn’t ever heard of “overtired” so it was all very helpful. My question is whether or not feeding time is included in the time between naps. Right now, as we’re still getting used to nursing, my little girl can take 45min-1 hr per feeding. If the window between naps is about 45min – 1.15hr max, this would mean putting her right back to sleep after she’s done eating. Is this correct? Thank you!

  9. My son is 7 months old. On a sleep schedule, but no matter what time we get up the morning he wake up and STAYS AWAKE till 6 In the freaking morning!!! I put him down before he falls asleep and he does just fine, but sure enough in the middle of the night he wants to play and gets mad and screams when I ignore him. I’m so tired. Every thing I’ve read is for babies waking up all through it the night but why I’d my child up literally alllll night?, his naps are completely normal

  10. My son is 7 months old. On a sleep schedule, but no matter what time we get up the morning he wakes up at 1am and STAYS AWAKE till 6 In the freaking morning!!! I put him down before he falls asleep and he does just fine, but sure enough in the middle of the night he wants to play and gets mad and screams when I ignore him. I’m so tired. Every thing I’ve read is for babies waking up all through it the night but why I’d my child up literally alllll night?, his naps are completely normal

  11. Just wanted to say thanks for this article. My daughter is 11months now and we were struggling with her not sleeping (quite happily) anywhere near the recommended amount, and naps were very difficult. When I read your article and realised that she should only be staying awake 45mins at such a young age, the change was almost instant!

    I have found myself referring to it throughout the year to check if I should be changing the awake times throughout the day and it has served me very well!

  12. I am so glad I found your website! This is all extremely helpful information and very entertaining! 🙂 My baby is 15 weeks and I have learned very quickly I know nothing about babies and sleep. I read the 90 minute nap solution book, and so we have been putting him down every 90 minutes after he wakes up, which seems to be working fairly well, and I think he’s starting to get used to that schedule. However, his naps are still not that long, so as a result, he’s still taking 4 naps, and usually a later one at around 5:30/6:00 (depending on when he woke up from the last one). When should we start dropping this nap and moving bedtime up to an earlier time? Right now he goes to sleep at around 8:30/9:00ish. Thank you for your help!

  13. I just want to thank you for the information. I found it so hard to find anything about sleep and how much my little one needed. He was sleeping so much and that honestly made me very worried. I have a much better grasp on his mood now and thanks to your chart I know that he is fussy because he needs to go down for a nap. Thanks so much 🙂

  14. Hi! Thanks for the article. However, your numbers don’t add up. For instance, in the table you list:
    9 Months – 12 Months ~3 hours 1-2 hours 2

    That’s 2hours * 2naps = 4 hours of sleep per day. So 20 hours of awake time per day!?!? I don’t understand those numbers at all. Are you saying my 9 month old should be awake 20 hours a day?

    • Yes your 9 month old should be awake 20 hours a day. That’s a totally reasonable interpretation of the information in that chart.

      THAT or it’s talking EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT NAPS. That in additional to the 2 naps there will be ~11 hours of night sleep.

      But if keeping your 9 month old awake 20 hours a day is working for you, who am I to judge?

      • What’s the difference between “nap” and “sleep”? Seems like the same thing…?

        • Nap sleep is significantly different from night sleep. It’s driven by a separate biological process, tends to fall primarily during daylight hours, is made up of short chunks of sleep (30 minutes – 2 hours) vs. a long stretch of ~11 hours (which may be interrupted by brief arousals and/or feedings).

          So nope – not the same thing.

          • OK, so my 6 week old typically sleeps:

            12:30am – 3:00am
            4:00am – 6:30am
            9:00am – 11:00am
            3:00pm – 5:00pm
            Assorted other 20 minute periods of sleep elsewhere.

            Which one(s) are “naps” and which one(s) are “sleep”?

            • Your 6 week old does not yet have an established circadian rhythm because he’s too young. So he has no night/nap sleep, he just sleeps in random chunks distributed around the day. His sleep WILL consolidate into day/night sleep soon. There is not much you can do to accelerate this process but manage light exposure – bright sunlight ideally during the day when he’s awake and keep the lights dark/dim when he’s awake during the night. That + time will help him consolidate into a long chunk of sleep generally from ~8PM – 6 AM. You’re close to getting a 12 AM – 6:30 AM chunk which will likely be step #1 towards this consolidation.

  15. Can anyone offer me some advice? My seven month old baby girl has just started lengthening her daytime naps. She wakes around 7am, naps from 9-10.30/11, then can stay awake for 2-2.5 hours, so goes down around 1/1.15. She wakes at 2.30/2.45 which is perfect becuase all this fits around the school run.
    However, after 2.30 I was getting her to nap in the buggy at around 4, to get her to bedtime. Since her naps have lengthened she is not interested in that nap at all but then has to get to 6.30 at the earliest for bed (I can’t put her down earlier or her morning nap would get earlier and be over the time we are going to school). Which means a four hour wake time. So now what she does is goes down with the dummy at 6.30/7, then wakes at 7.45 and cries until 9.30. We are finding this really hard; nothing seems to help – dummy, cuddling, rocking, feeding. I’m pretty certain she is overtired. So my question is this – do I give her a nap at 5pm and move bedtime later until she is mature enough to stay awake longer? Or do I just keep going with two naps and hope she matures soon enough so that she she doesn’t learn any bad habits?

  16. Hi Alexis,

    Thank you so much for your post! I am a very tired first time Mom and your guidance has been super helpful. I’m also hoping you could help me with a current sleep issue we’re having with my 8 month old. We had him perfectly sleep trained, but he began crawling & pulling himself up on things last week and everything changed. He still sleeps well during the night (6:30 or 7pm – 6:30 am) and he’s supposed to nap at 8:30, 12:30/1:30, and possibly at 5:00 depending on how long nap #2 lasted/what time he woke up.

    We are at this place of losing the 3rd nap, which makes him super fussy before bed and has been a difficult transition for us. The bigger issue however, is now he suddenly cries hysterical when you put him in his crib and immediately stands up when you walk out. He pulls himself up and is standing/trying to get out of the crib that I can’t get him to sleep. For example, he needed a nap today at 3:30 after being up for 3 hours and showing signs of being tired (yawning). Blinds are drawn, white noise on, etc. but he won’t sleep. It’s been over 40 minutes of him either playing or crying. I know he’s exhausted, but don’t want to start the habit of holding him until he falls asleep. At what point do I go in there? He’s been up since 12:35, it’s now 4:10 and he’s in his crib just screaming. Any advise you could share would be greatly appreciated and so helpful. 🙂

  17. As an update, I thought you should know my son cried until after 4:30. He was in his crib for over an hour, at which time it was too close to bedtime to nap. He went to bed without issue at 6pm, but had been up since 12:35 and was super fussy the last hour he was up.

  18. I know this article is a little old, but I just want to say I’m so happy I found it. My three month old recently began fighting sleep, but I didn’t really pick up on it right away. I just assumed she was getting older and going to be awake more. Now I know why she’s gone from a normally content baby to a grumpy one…she must be over tired. Your sleep chart is so helpful, and I’m putting it to use asap. Thanks!

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