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?

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?


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?


Subscribe to our mailing list

Email Address *


  1. Alexis,

    I’m a bit worried about my 6.5 month old. He is not eating or sleeping very well these days, and no matter what he wakes up and still looks pale and tired. He is still a very happy baby, smiling, laughing, playing just the same as he always has.

    He has learned to pull himself up to his knees and feet. He loves doing this and will try to pull himself up on to whatever he can, including his crib.

    We have moved his crib mattress down, but he still tries his hardest to climb up. When he can’t do that he sits and cries. For an hour he will do this.

    His bedtime is 7pm. He usually gets up 2x a night to eat about 4 oz each time. I know we need to ween him off the night feedings.
    He will sleep until 5:30 or 6:30am.

    He eats at 7:30am. 6-8 oz and 2oz of solids

    First nap is at 8am until 9:30/10am. there is minimal grumbling and no frantic crying. He seems to like his morning nap.

    Try to feed him between 10am and his second nap, but he usually is more interested in playing and eats very little (a few oz) sporadically.

    The second nap (used to be at 11:30/Noon) which he used to take everyday is now a wash. He will just sit up in his crib and wail. After 30 minutes of non stop crying I get him out. We go for a drive, walk, or play in the hopes of sleeping again sometimes I can get a cat nap and sometimes I can’t. I still try this nap everyday. He looks so tired by this point.

    He will eat 6-8 oz in the early afternoon.

    I put him down at 3pm and expect there to be a bit more crying/grumbling. There is. But after 20-30 minutes he usually sleeps for about 45 minutes.

    At this point he looks so tired, he reminds me of how I look when I have the flu. I know that his second front tooth will pop through any day now and he cut his other one last weekend. He still will not sleep that well even if we give him a pain reliever.

    He will eat 6-8 ozs and 2 oz of solids at 5:30-6:00pm. Then it is bedtime routine. Diaper change, pjs, books, bed. He does not grumble that much or cry at bed time. He usually gets up at midnight and then again at 4am, before finally awaking for the day between 5:30 and 6:30am.

    I am not sure what to do to help him. I try to feed him anytime he starts to fuss during the day but he usually does not want it. I can’t tell anymore if he is fussing because he is tired or hungry because he is only eating about 24 fluid oz and 4 solid ozs and sleeping less than the recommend amounts; and at his point it is all running together for me. I just want him to eat and sleep.

    I am trying to decipher if we are in a growth spurt, teething time, developmental leap, and will it just be difficult for a bit; or is it something I am doing that is making it hard for baby to sleep and eat.

    My husband says that the baby is fine and he will do what he wants and won’t let himself starve. While I know there is a basic level of truth to this, I also think that a babies do not know what is best for them on every level and need some parental guidance to help them get what they need. I

    Any insight you have would be so very much appreciated.

    Margaret recently posted..The Monumental Guide to Short Naps AKA Everything You Need to Know to Vanquish Crap NapsMy Profile

  2. Is feeding time included in the wakefulness time?? I have. 4 week old who is only napping 20 minutes during the day and having 2 hour stretches at night. However, my little guy is dealing with gas unfortunately so I find that wakes him up at night as well.

  3. Rafaella – we have IDENTICAL situations – gassy little man (only 10 days old) who refuses to nap long enough to allow mom to rest during the day, leading to what I’m guessing is some over-tiredness (for both of us) and then “short” stretches at night with wakefulness that starts with a feeding and several burping attempts with little luck followed by 20-40+ minutes of fussiness until he can finally expel the gas or wears himself out screaming. It’s fun for all of us but I’d LOVE some advice from anyone!

  4. Dear Alex,
    your site is fantastic and I’m happy I found it!
    I have a question regarding nap schedule. I would love to get my 6month old baby girl on 9am / 1pm nap schedule. However when she wakes up at 6am (sometimes even 5:30) what do I do? Should I wait until close to 9am or follow the 2 hours wake up time? She seems tired after more than 2 hours awake and I’m afraid that by keeping her up I will mess with her nap and she will sleep less in the end. Normally she naps for 1 hour (sometimes up to 2 hours).
    Thank you!

  5. I found myself referring someone to this page, telling them how often I referred to it myself and how much it has helped, and it occurred to me – I should say thank you! So – thank you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back and looked at this chart in order to see what my expectations should be for my daughter. Out of all the muddle of controversial sleep advice and contradicting sleep experts, this site has made by far the most sense, and this page in particular is my favorite. Thank you!


  1. The Ultimate Baby Swing Sleep Guide For Swing Hating Babies | Troublesome Tots
  2. What You Need to Know About Sleeping Through the Night - Part I | Troublesome Tots
  3. Baby Sleep What is Normal? | Troublesome Tots
  4. Your Nemesis, The Short Nap - Troublesome Tots
  5. Hypothalamic amenorrhea vets - fifth wave! - Life's Journey Forums

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge