Thoughts By Natalie

The Baby Sleep Trick I Wish I’d Known Sooner


Confession: after writing about taking baby sleep advice with a grain of salt, I continued to torture myself and keep reading baby sleep books. Bad, I know. But I couldn’t help myself. And now that I’m through the fog, I can finally 1) admit it, and 2) tell you I’m so glad I did it because I discovered a super simple sleep trick that I seriously wish I’d known sooner.

I stumbled upon a book called The Happy Sleeper when my friend Jacqueline sent me an article written by the book’s authors. Curious, I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and my the end of the day I had finished the entire book. It was seriously so logical and helpful—I really wish I had been able to read it sooner and apply their strategies to the newborn stage!

That being said, I’ll let you decide if you want to read it or not. But I must share with you the one most helpful tidbit I learned: the 90-minute awake span. This may not be a revolutionary idea to some of you, but as a new mom who has no experience with babies at all, this was a game changer in the best way possible.

In a nutshell:

“…After about the age of 2 months, she will start to feel drowsy around 90 minutes after waking up (before this age, she’ll flicker in and out of sleep much more quickly). There is a magical little window here when falling asleep is easy. When you’ve missed the window and she’s overtired, she may yawn, pull her ears, rub her eyes, cry , or appear a little wired. At this point, falling asleep becomes more difficult because her nervous system is overwhelmed and dysregulated. This 90-minute rule of thumb applies to the start of your baby’s day, and also to each window of time she’s awake after a nap, throughout the day. The 90-minute awake span is one of the most successful ways to improve naps and , as a result, all sleep. Sleep begets sleep. One of the most common mistakes parents make is not putting baby down to nap often enough, which results in a chronically overtired baby whose nervous system is overstimulated and who is even less capable of falling asleep.”

At first I thought this was crazy—Jack didn’t seem tired at all after only being up for an hour or so. But since nap time was a bit of a nightmare at the time that I read this, I decided it couldn’t really get worse and was worth a try. The first few times were strange, I admit. He totally just stared at the monitor, and even cried a bit so I was in and out of his room soothing him back to sleep. But after a day or two, naps became a breeze and they still are today.

What used to be a super stressful thing in our lives—getting Jack to nap and figuring out when he was tired—has now become a consistent, reliable activity that Jack is thankful for and much happier as a result of. Our issue now is not so much that he doesn’t nap enough, but that I sometimes have to actually wake up him from his last nap so he doesn’t miss bedtime!

In about a month or so (around 6 or 7 months) I imagine we’ll get him into a nap schedule based on time of day rather than span of awake time, but for now, this is our golden ticket to amazing daytime sleep. Hope it helps you, too!

Photo by Chrissy Powers for Thoughts By Natalie

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  • Verity
    February 26, 2015 at 11:21 am

    My son, Phox, is a little younger than Jack and will sleep for 11-12 hours through the night with no issues, however getting him to nap during the day is a real struggle! This is the first time that I have heard this particular trick but after today’s antics (it’s 7pm-ish here in London) I am willing to try ANYTHING! Can I ask though, how long does Jack usually stay asleep for now that you are putting him down 90 minutes after he has awoken?

    • Natalie Borton
      February 26, 2015 at 11:25 am

      It was shorter periods at first—sometimes only 20 or 30 minutes! But I’ve stuck with the game plan and now he naps for 45 minutes to two hours. It’s amazing!

      • Verity
        February 26, 2015 at 11:27 am

        Hmmm, thanks, I shall definitely have to give this a go and hopefully I will have the same wonderful results.

        • Natalie Borton
          February 26, 2015 at 12:58 pm

          Yes, I hope it works for you! Let me know!

      • kate
        March 31, 2015 at 6:56 am

        When Jack woke up after the 20-30 min, would you feed him and restart the cycle? I am trying this but am having trouble balancing it with longer stretches between feedings.

        • Natalie Borton
          March 31, 2015 at 11:12 am

          No, I’d just let him get up and then try another nap shortly after (like 45 minutes or so). The book said that after that much sleep, it’s too hard for them to get back to sleep for a solid nap, and to just let them play for a while, reset and then try again. That being said, I’ve found that feeding on demand (rather than planning his feedings) has worked best with this more flexible napping plan. Hope that helps!

  • Urban Wife
    February 26, 2015 at 11:50 am

    The ‘awake times’ were absolutely so helpful with our son when he was younger! I found a sleep chart on ‘Troublesome Tots’ that was a lifesaver for me. It’s based off the Ferber method and shows all the way up to 3 years old. Anyhow, I’m so glad you found a nice rhythm and that naps are improved! :)

  • Fran
    February 26, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I remember commenting when you were showing your Solly wrap if he would sleep in bed.

  • AshleyL
    February 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    My little one is 8 months old and we do the same thing at 2 hour intervals so you might think about expanding to that when he gets a little older. It’s amazing how well it works. At first I wasn’t giving her enough time to put herself to sleep when she was playing in her crib I’d go in and try to help and I just made things worse. Much better now. Thanks for the book recommendation. It was so helpful. Also “the pause” has also been crucial.

    • Natalie Borton
      March 31, 2015 at 11:06 am

      Yes! The pause is essential!!

  • Carissa
    February 26, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    This was a really great tip to share for all the mothers who read.
    I agree with the previous commenter, Ashley, that you will probably have to expand the awake time to around 2 hours as Jack grows. My son Charlie would nap every 2 hours, but recently I’ve noticed that isn’t a long enough awake time for him anymore. Now it is more like 3. But he is almost one, so little Jack has some time!

  • kate
    February 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    so glad to hear that you found this book successful! i read it a few weeks go after seeing some articles, and have been using the tips for helping babies learn to self-soothe from the 0-4 month section because my baby is 3 months old.

    he’s a catnapper (typically between 30 and 40 minute naps), and it sounds like jack used to be, too. so far i’ve been trying to stick with a routine of eat, awake, sleep, and putting leo down 90 minutes after he started eating, but since he naps so quickly, it means he’s often awake for a bit before it’s time to eat, and then his awake time ends up being at least 2 hours. i’d like to give this a go, though, which will mean maybe he’s napping more frequently than he’s eating. (he’s currently nursing every 3 hours, though his doctor said he should be able to push to 4 hours; i just haven’t been able to do that because it’s too much time for him to be awake between nursing with his catnaps…)

    i’m wondering if you have an eat/awake/sleep routine with jack? i know people follow different cycles of it, so i’m just curious what you’ve found works now that you’re sticking to the 90 minute awake time. thanks :).

    • Natalie Borton
      March 31, 2015 at 11:07 am

      No, we don’t do an eat/awake/sleep routine with him since I still feed him totally on demand. In fact, if anything he tends to eat before his nap times rather than afterwards. I really just feed him whenever he seems hungry!

  • Linnea
    February 26, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    I do the same thing with our little girl (who will be 7 months next week!). For her, she needs a nap after 2 hours of awake time. Our rough routine (for the morning at least) seems to be: 8am wake, 10am nap, 11:30am wake and get ready for lunch at the table (now that we’re feeding her solids). After her last nap, she’s up for about 3 hours, because I try and keep her bed time at 6:30pm. Her two front teeth are coming in, so wake ups at night are frequent at the moment. Let me know if you have tips for that :o)

    • Natalie Borton
      March 31, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Oh man, teething can be rough! Jack hasn’t had any sleep issues with his teething, but I think we just lucked out on that. My instinct would be to go in and soothe her when she wakes up at night while she’s teething since she’s probably in pain and not just being stubborn about sleep.

  • Sarah
    February 27, 2015 at 5:32 am

    I wish I would’ve read this last summer. I swore up and down that my little guy wouldn’t nap. Little did I know, he was just overtired. Once I figured this out (around the time he was 3 1/2 months), it totally saved us! He’s now 10 months old and is awake for around 3 hours at a time, then sleeps for 2, with 2 naps a day. It’s so nice to have a predictable nap schedule – you can actually get stuff done and feel like yourself, and when he’s up, he’s happy!

    • Natalie Borton
      March 31, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Yes! Happy babies are the best babies :)