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Eczema and sleep: Understanding wake windows in babies and toddlers

Older blonde baby sleeping in blue and white striped top
Here at ScratchSleeves we love collaborating to bring you the experience and expertise of professionals and parents. This time we have teamed up with early years professional, sleep consultant and eczema mum, Kirsty Irving. We can’t think of a better person to be sharing top tips on eczema and sleep. Not only does Kirsty have eczema herself, so do her two children, Emily (7) and William (2). It was Emily’s struggles with itch-disturbed sleep that motivated Kirsty to train as a sleep consultant. In this article we look at one of the most useful tools in helping an itchy, eczema baby or toddler to sleep better: understanding wake windows.

What are wake windows?

Wake windows are the periods of time that a person is awake in between sleep periods. Rather than asking how long a child needs to sleep, wake windows ask how long he has been awake in one stretch. Being aware of wake windows has two advantages:

  • As all parents quickly discover, it’s easier for a child to sleep if they aren’t over-tired. Putting your child down to nap before the end of their wake window will allow them to fall asleep more easily
  • It’s easier for a child to sleep if they have been awake long enough to be properly tired.

Wake windows will vary both with age and with how long a child has slept in their previous nap. This means that following wake windows rather than a strict schedule can make life easier, especially in the first 6 months, when they are developing so quickly.

Young toddler in blue and white striped top sleeping on his back. He is sound asleep and looks like he is dreaming about boxing!
Falling asleep is much easier if you’re not over tired and haven’t hit your ‘second wind’. This is even more true of eczema kids. The boredom of being in bed without being ready to sleep will almost inevitably result in scratching. As will the crankiness and extra energy of overtiredness.

How long are my child’s wake windows?

Identifying wake windows is a mix of knowing roughly what to expect at a given age and reading your child’s sleep cues. This table is a guide to how wake windows vary with age.

However, all children are different. Some will be able to stay awake longer than these ranges, others will be ready to sleep much sooner. This is where knowing your child’s sleep cues comes in.

Sleep cues can be obvious, like yawning, rubbing eyes or ears, drooping eyelids, becoming grouchy, turning their head away from simulation or from side to side and looking dazed. Less obvious signs can include being quieter and less alert, more frequent blinking or, especially in toddlers, attention seeking. In eczema children, increased scratching is often a sign that they are getting tired. Every child is different so you’ll need to get to know your child’s sleep cues. Work out your child’s likely wake window from the table above. As you get to towards the end of that window, watch for changes in behaviour as possible sleep cues.

Once you have worked out your child’s sleep cues, you should be able to work out their personal wake windows. This will give you a much better chance of getting them off to sleep quickly. Just be ready for them to vary.

Wake windows by age. Data provided by Kirsty Irving at Chuckles Sleep Consultant

When do they vary?

  • During the day. Wake windows will typically vary during the day with a shorter window before the first nap in the morning and the longest before bedtime. So, using the table above, an 8 month old is likely to need to sleep around 2 hours after they wake up in the morning, but could comfortably be awake for 3.5 hrs before bedtime.
  • When the previous nap was short. Not surprising, the wake window following a shorter than normal nap is also shorter than normal. This includes the first wake window of the day, if your little one has had a rough night. As a guide, if a nap was shorter than 40-45 minutes, the next wake window is likely to be at least 45 minutes shorter as well. Plan for an early nap and keep an eye out for sleep cues to avoid your little one becoming overtired.
  • During growth spurts. Little ones need more sleep during growth spurts so their wake windows will be shorter. Growth spurts typically occur at around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months and 9 months old. They are often accompanied by a sudden increase in appetite, increased grumpiness and fitful sleep. While some children will sleep for longer periods during a growth spurt, others will be woken up by their stomachs more often.
  • As your child gets older. You can see from the table that wake windows lengthen as kids get older. Time flies when kids are really small. It’s very likely that just as you start to get comfortable in a routine, you’ll need to change it.

How can using wake windows help my eczema child to sleep better?

It’s much easier for anyone to fall asleep comfortably if they are tired but haven’t had the adrenaline hit of the ‘second wind’ and this is even more true of eczema kids. The boredom of being in bed without being ready to sleep will almost inevitably result in scratching. As will the crankiness and extra energy of overtiredness. By being aware of your child’s wake windows, you have a better chance of hitting the ‘just tired enough’ sweet-spot when you put them down for a nap or tuck them in for the night.


If you want more details of my work as a sleep consultant head over to my website where you’ll find contact details, links to my social media channels and more tips on helping children to develop good sleep habits.


As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy-friendly recipes), we also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult years in a range of colours and designs. Visit our webshop for more information.

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Written by:

Kirsty is an early years professional, sleep consultant and eczema mum. Not only does Kirsty have eczema herself, so do her two children, Emily and William. It was Emily’s struggles with itch-disturbed sleep that motivated Kirsty to train as a sleep consultant.

Reviewed by:

Coming from a family of eczema sufferers, Jae draws on years of practical, first hand experience living with eczema.

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