When we work with families, we talk about sleep pressure and how it affects the all-important awake windows (the time between waking up and going to sleep) which in turn supports better nap and bedtime routines.
But what is sleep pressure, and how does it affect our little ones sleep?
Otherwise known as homeostatic sleep drive (if you are looking for the technical term), sleep pressure builds up in our body once we are awake and keeps rising until we go to sleep. This isn’t just in children, but also adults. Unless we allow the right amount of sleep pressure (not too little or too much), it will be much harder to go to sleep, and stay asleep.
This is where awake windows come into their own. As adults, we can stay awake all day, and more often than not, this will allow us to go to sleep in the evening. For little ones, their bodies are still developing to be able to cope with a high level of sleep pressure and this is one of the reasons why naps are so important. But even more crucial, naps and bedtime sleep, at the correct intervals during the day, support an easier bedtime routine.
If little ones do not have enough sleep pressure, and the awake window is too short, they will resist sleep, often becoming agitated and upset. If sleep pressure is too high, they will be overtired and find it tricky to go to sleep. This also explains why a “danger nap”, can indeed, make like harder. As soon as a child goes to sleep, the sleep pressure is reduced, even if it is for a micro nap. They will then find it harder to go to sleep, unless the have another full awake window.
So this all sounds great right? No more guessing if they are tired and no more waiting for sleepy cues? If we could wave a magic wand and this be the case, we would more than happily do so, however we all know that little ones are individuals, with their own preferences and this also applies to awake windows. Whilst this is here for a guide, all children are different and they all have a different tolerance level. Some can stay awake 10 minutes past their “typical” window, where it will send others into a full meltdown.
However, using the information below is a great starting point.
|Typical Awake Window
|45 mins-60 minutes
|1 – 1 ½ hrs
|1 ½ – 2 hrs
|2 – 2 ½ hrs
|2 ½ -3hrs
|12/13 months-2.5/3 years
Using these timings, for little ones who have great sleep skills, can help support a relaxing , enjoyable and stress free bedtime.