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Finding your child’s sleep window

When I talk with clients about the importance of getting their child the rest he needs, one thing we always discuss is their child’s sleep window, the natural time that the body wants to sleep.   Its during this time that the body produces the sleep hormone, melatonin, to prepare the body for sleep.  So if we can lay their child down during his sleep window, it will be easier for him to fall asleep.  If we miss the window, the body starts to produce cortisol and adrenaline, which will make it very difficult for him to fall asleep.  Then he will become overtired and over-stimulated which will also lead to difficulty staying asleep.

To find your child’s sleep window, watch the clock and keep an eye out for sleep cues.  A lot of children I work with have sensitive sleep needs and are overtired.  Therefore they do not always have obvious sleep cues so we have to rely on the clock a little more in the beginning to find the child’s sleep window.

Here is an example of how long a child can stay awake during the day before they need to sleep according to age:

  • 0-3 months old-45 to 60 minutes
  • 3-6 months old-1 to 2.5 hours
  • 6-9 months old-2.5 to 3 hours
  • 9-12 months old-3 to 4 hours
  • 12-18 months old-4 to 6 hours
  • 2 years old-5-6 hours
  • 3 years old-6-8 hours (some children this age stop napping)
  • 4 years old and older-6-12 hours (most children this age are not napping)

Here are some examples of common sleep cues:

  • Looking away
  • Becoming less engaged
  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Pulling at ears
  • Rubbing face

Sleep cues are often more subtle, your child may show he is tired in a different way than listed.  If your child starts to get fussy, agitated, cry or becomes hyperactive or silly, chances are that you have missed your child’s sleep window and your child is overtired.  You don’t want to wait until you see this kind of behavior because it will not be as easy for your child to fall asleep or stay asleep.

About the author

Shannon Glenn

Shannon Glenn is the owner and founder of Sleep Well Children Consulting and a Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist. She is dedicated to helping parents assist their children and babies in developing healthy sleep habits. With a B.A. in Psychology, Shannon has worked extensively with children and their families for over 15 years in a variety of settings.  She has been offering sleep solutions for over six years.  

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