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False Startsat bedtime

How to Handle False Starts at Bedtime

(AKA, “My baby wakes an hour after getting them down for the night”)

There is nothing worse than getting your baby to sleep for the night, settling in to relax for the evening, only to hear your baby start to wake and cry shortly 30-45 minutes later. This is called a false start, and is officially defined as baby waking within an hour of falling asleep at bedtime. Basically, they’ve treated bedtime like a short nap and are bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to be awake another wake window. But it’s bedtime! Been there? Read on to learn why they happen and what you can do about them!

What causes a false start? And how can I stop them!?

Of course, with baby sleep, the answer to our questions usually depends on several factors. Let’s look at some of the common reasons your little one might be having false starts.

1. Overtiredness: This is probably the number one reason for false starts in most babies. If your baby is taking short naps or the timings of the naps aren’t age appropriate, this can impact their night sleep. Specifically, being overtired makes it difficult for your baby to settle into a deep sleep at bedtime, so they only make it to one sleep cycle before waking up.

How to fix: The best way to prevent baby from being overtired at bedtime is to ensure that they are getting an age-appropriate number of hours of sleep during the day and their wake windows aren’t too long before bedtime. This may mean giving a contact or stroller nap to let baby catch up on sleep during the day, and checking that their last wake window of the day isn’t too long.

2. Undertiredness: On the flipside, sometimes babies are tired enough to fall asleep, but not tired enough to stay asleep at bedtime. Perhaps your baby is getting too much daytime sleep for his or her age, or the last wake window isn’t long enough to build sleep pressure for overnight sleep. For most babies, the last wake window is the longest of the day. Another related factor to undertiredness is that baby is waking too late in the mornings and caregivers aren’t giving them at least 11 hours of “daytime” to build sleep pressure. For example, if your baby wakes at 9am, you can’t reasonably expect them to go to bed at 7pm and sleep 14 hours overnight.

How to fix: The best way to fix this is to again check that baby is receiving an age-appropriate amount of naps (in this case, not too much daytime sleep) and that the last wake window before bedtime is long enough to build sleep pressure. If baby is waking later in the morning, you may need to adjust their wake time or push bedtime later so that they can get 11-12 hours of overnight sleep (and therefore have 12-13 hours of daytime, including naps). Most babies do well to start the day between 6:00-8:00 am. For babies under 4 months, a later bedtime (between 8:00-10:00 pm) often resolves false starts.

3. Sleep Associations: If your little one relies on sleep associations to get really drowsy or fall asleep, such as rocking, feeding, or being held to sleep, then they may be waking up because these things are no longer present and they don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep.

How to fix: Your baby will need the same thing to fall back asleep as they had at bedtime, whether that be rocking, feeding, or other types of assistance. If this is not a sustainable pattern for you, this is a great sign it could be a good time to teach your little one how to fall asleep without those types of sleep associations. This is exactly what we do at WeeSleep – help families find a gentle, responsive sleep solution to teach their little ones how to fall asleep independently so the whole family is well-rested!

Hopefully, you’ve figured out why your little one is having false starts and what you can do to prevent them from continuing. Still have questions or need further guidance? Our WeeSleep team of Certified Sleep Consultants can help give you the all the tools and resources you need, fully customized to your family’s goals, and guide you to rested days and nights for your little one. Book a Free 15-minute Consultation with one of our experienced, certified sleep consultants today.

Prepared by WeeSleep Chief Success Specialist Charlsie Myers, PhD, BCBACertified Pediatric Sleep Consultant