Wake Windows vs. Nap Schedules: Pros, Cons & How to Choose

Deciding whether to follow baby’s wake windows or start a nap schedule? Here are the pros, cons, and general rules of thumb.

Many mothers know the drama of the overtired cycle and want to avoid it.

You want a happy baby, well rested, and then able to sleep at night without waking up tons of times and refusing to go back to sleep.

This ain’t pie in the sky, it’s perfectly doable.

I had 5 babies in 5 years and did nearly the same thing with all 5 (who have 5 differing personalities) and got the same results more or less. Well rested, content babies.

Before we get into it, know this.

Things wake both windows and nap schedules have in common:

  • clock watching
  • agreement that babies can only stay awake happily (and then sleep well) if they don’t get overtired
  • need to be maintained and carried out by mom

So without further ado, let’s dive into the nitty gritty.

Nap Times Cheat Sheet

Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!

Wake windows or nap schedules… which to do?

We’re going to get super specific, super practical, and help you choose which to do based on your own personality, and baby’s.

Wake windows

Wake windows are essentially the amount of time your baby should be awake (including feeding, you feed baby while awake or they snack all day) before going down for their next nap.

So, a newborn won’t need to be up more than about 1 hour and 20 minutes max, therefore if they wake up at 8:30am, then the latest they should be back down for a nap would be 9:50am, for example .

Often people suggest using wake windows for the early newborn weeks and then shift into more scheduled daily routines as baby ages. See my printable below if you want to use wake windows.

Nap Times Cheat Sheet

Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!

Pros to using wake windows with your baby

Now that we know what wake windows are, let’s dive into the pros and cons. Remember, even with wake windows you have to watch the clock because – again – baby can’t stay up long periods.

The difference is, you’re watching the clock based on when baby woke up last vs the daily schedule times you’re aiming for.

  • More flexibility. You aren’t tied to certain times throughout the day.
  • You feel responsive. When you use wake windows, you learn baby’s tired cues and feel in tune and responsive to baby’s needs since you’re letting them lead the charge, so to speak.
  • You don’t need to worry about nap times when making appointments, etc. Because you aren’t trying to aim for a set schedule, you can be more flexible and free when scheduling things, going out, etc.
  • There’s no need to worry about “short naps.” Because you’re shifting your daily nap times based on when baby last, you don’t need woke up to fret about missed naps since you know baby will make it up the next nap. Or you hope they will.
  • Baby doesn’t get overtired if missing naps. When you aren’t worried about set nap times, but just making sure baby goes down at regular intervals, even if their naps are erratic, baby shouldn’t get too overtired.

Cons to using wake windows

Now that we’ve discussed some pros to approaching baby’s daily sleep needs using wake windows and tired cues, let’s dive into how this can be a con for some moms.

  • Days are unpredictable. You don’t know what times baby will nap or how well they’ll nap in a predictable way since it changes daily.
  • It’s hard to pinpoint sleep issues. Since times aren’t standard, moms can get into a cycle where they think baby isn’t sleeping well. But it could be baby isn’t sleeping well because their naps are all over the place. Can be chicken and the egg issue.
  • Hard to book appointments or pencil in adult things. Since you don’t have approximate times that baby naps, it’s hard to schedule things. It could fall right into a feed or nap time. And – if baby doesn’t nap well away from home – you may end up more stressed than if you were able to schedule that event at a certain time.
  • There are no predictable morning wake up or bedtime times. When baby is very small this isn’t so much of an issue as later. It can end up meaning a nap crosses or messes with bedtime. Or the early morning nap is so early it’s almost like “still nighttime” and thus you end up with early waking issues.

Wake window considerations

Here are some general considerations for the mamas who want to help a baby remain well-rested using wake windows without resorting to a daily schedule.

  • This is best suited for more go with the flow moms. If you like predictability this will be hard unless baby takes consistent naps and your wake windows end up being a more set routine anyway.
  • If you have multiple kids, or a preschooler and toddler, for example, who nap or rest at the same time, then you may find wake windows to be more difficult since nothing is predictable.
  • Generally speaking, by the time your little one is past the newborn phase there’s no more benefit to wake windows than a nap schedule.

Daily Routine Brainstorm SHEETS

Get my cheat sheets (newborn up to elementary aged kids) and find your family’s groove. Use them for nap times, meal times, bedtimes, chore times, play times AND more!

Nap schedules

If you think won’t nap on a schedule then, well, I encourage you babies to take a trip to a local daycare.

Call up, ask when naptime is, and show up 15 minutes before. Watch those ladies put down 15+ babies at the same time without drama. And then sit around for two hours.

While all the babies sleep peacefully. At the same time.

Then come back and tell me a baby won’t sleep on a schedule.

Pros to using nap schedules with your baby

Here are the pros to using a nap schedule with your baby.

  • More predictable. You know when baby will go down for the nap, about when they’ll wake up for the morning, and bedtime.
  • You can more easily care for baby and your other children. If you have a toddler and preschooler then their naptimes are typically set, so knowing when baby does what will help you manage your overall day more easily.
  • You learn baby’s cries and cues easily. Because baby feeds at same times and naps at same times, you quickly learn which cries mean what. They cry right at naptime, you learn tired cry. They cry at normal feeding time, you know it’s hunger, etc.
  • You can schedule adult responsibilities in. Knowing when naptimes happen means you can do appointments, work, playdates, errands, etc. You’re not at the whim of a good or bad nap, you know when what happens.
  • Baby’s needs are met before any crying needs to happen. With all 5 of mine everyone commented how very little they cried. They weren’t angry or whiny. Because they were fed regularly, before they needed to get worked up. And they slip regularly, before they were overtired.

Nap schedule cons

There are some cons to schedules, however, so let’s hit those too.

  • If one nap is short, the day can get thrown off. Lots of moms write to me and say… if baby wakes up after 45 minutes instead of taking a 1.5 hour nap… what do I do? So if baby isn’t a consistent napper often the days can go sideways.
  • You feel like a “failure” if baby doesn’t keep the schedule well. If baby doesn’t take long consistent naps. Or wakes early in the morning. Or starts screaming before bedtime. Or wakes up a lot at night, you can feel like you are failing baby somehow. Having goals that aren’t met seems somehow worse than having no goal in a day, even if there are a lot of tears involved.
  • Babies are gonna baby. If your little one is more challenging, sometimes going with their flow is going to be easier than sticking to a schedule. If they have reflux or (one of these 12) medical reasons for not sleeping well, then a schedule may be more annoying than it’s worth.

Nap schedule considerations

If you’re considering going to nap schedules, here are some things to consider.

  • Nap schedules are great for Type A moms. If you hate unpredictability and really don’t handle things being up in the air, do a nap schedule.
  • You can reset the day without throwing the whole schedule out. If baby wakes up early from a nap, you don’t have to throw out the whole day. You can keep baby up for a while, aim to feed at the next feed time, and keep going.


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