False Starts at Bedtime: How to prevent them from happening!

There are lots of pieces around baby sleep that are difficult and exhausting, but I’m here to say that one of the top WORST trials of baby sleep is false starts at bedtime. 

 

I mean seriously. Is there anything worse than finally getting your baby to sleep, only to have them pop awake crying 30 minutes later?! It’s a special kind of torture. 

 

So first of all, I see you. I feel you. And please know you’re most certainly not alone. False starts at bedtime are incredibly common for babies of all ages. And… wait for it…..they are almost always preventable! 

 

In this blog post, I am going to talk about what exactly a false start is, why it could be happening, and what you can do to stop them from happening. 

 

Grab a coffee (because false starts are no joke) and let’s dive in! 

 

What is a false start? 

 

What causes false starts at bedtime? 

 

Do babies grow out of false starts?

 

How to stop false starts at bedtime? 

 

 

What is a false start? 

 

A false start is when your baby goes to bed for the night but then wakes up after one sleep cycle (usually 30 to 60 minutes) or 10-20 minutes after falling asleep. They will wake up upset, as if something has caused them to wake up and they want to go back to sleep.

 

Baby having false start at bedtime |The Peaceful Sleeper

 

Note: If your baby wakes within this time frame after going to bed, but they are happy, alert, and hard to get back to sleep, then it’s not really a false start – it’s more that they treated bedtime like a nap.  If this is happening then you would want to have a look at scheduling.  

 

What causes false starts at bedtime? 

 

False starts at bedtime have many different potential causes. Once we get to the reason behind the false start then we can work on preventing them from happening. Here are the most common causes: 

 

1. Overtiredness 

 

The most common reason why a false start happens is overtiredness. Overtiredness can happen for a number of reasons: 

 

  • Your baby didn’t get enough daytime sleep 

If your baby’s overall sleep needs were not met during the day, then they are likely heading into bed overtired. There are a lot of pieces to ensuring your baby gets their optimal daytime sleep, like knowing exactly what their sleep needs are, navigating short naps, and having them on a schedule that works for them. 

If you would like help determining the best sleep schedule for your baby, check out these age-based blog posts or let’s hop on a call

6 week sleep schedule

3 month sleep schedule

4 month sleep schedule

5 month sleep schedule

6 month sleep schedule

8 month sleep schedule

9 month sleep schedule 

10 month sleep schedule

 

  • The last wake window before bed was too long

If your baby is fussing during the bedtime routine or drifting off to sleep before the bedtime routine is over, then that’s another indicator that they are overtired and in this case, the wake window before bed is likely too long. 

 

Try shortening the wake window by 15 min for a few days and see if that helps! 

 

  • Naps were not restorative 

There is a big difference between getting 3 hours of daytime sleep over the course of two 1.5 hour naps and getting 3 hours of daytime sleep over the course of four to five  30 – 45 min naps. 

 

This is because short naps (or crap naps as I like to call them) are not restorative (note: this does not apply to a situation where your baby needs a short cat nap in the late afternoon or early evening in order to make it to bedtime). 

 

If your baby is constantly waking after a 30-45 minute nap, check out this blog post

 

Also, you can check out this post on some tips to optimize daytime sleep!

 

How to optimize daytime sleep Instagram Reel |The Peaceful Sleeper

2. Undertiredness

 

It’s more common that a false start would happen due to overtiredness than undertiredness, however as we all know with babies, anything is possible! Lol!

If you have explored overtiredness and it actually feels more like undertiredness, then it could be because: 

 

  • Your baby got too much daytime sleep

If your baby is getting more daytime sleep than they need, they could wake shortly after being put to bed because there wasn’t enough sleep pressure built. If this is the case, you can consider capping the last nap of the day and see if that helps. 

 

  • The last wake window before bed was too short 

If you think your baby’s total daytime sleep needs were met but they are still undertired going to bed, then consider lengthening the last wake window before bed. I would start with just 15 min for a few days and then reevaluate. 

 

 

3. Scheduling Issue 

 

Maybe tweaking wake windows isn’t enough to iron out your baby’s schedule so they have the right amount of sleep pressure built before bed and are not having a false start. 

 

If you think your baby’s schedule is off, it could be that they need a later bedtime and would do better with a cat nap before bed, or they actually need to drop a nap and possibly have an earlier bedtime. 

 

This can be super tricky to try and figure out on your own. If you suspect a scheduling issue, we would love to help! You can check out my blog posts on age-based sleep schedules or you can hop on the phone with one of our amazing sleep consultants! 

 

6 week sleep schedule

3 month sleep schedule

4 month sleep schedule

5 month sleep schedule

6 month sleep schedule

8 month sleep schedule

9 month sleep schedule 

10 month sleep schedule

 

 

 

4. Pain or Discomfort

 

If your baby is experiencing pain or discomfort then it would make sense that they would wake up shortly after going to sleep. Of course, there is illness as the obvious culprit but it could also be more subtle like gas, or they are uncomfortable in their sleep clothing, the room is too hot/cold, etc. 

 

Evaluate the sleep environment and you can also check out this blog post about ways to prevent and help a gassy baby. 

 

Also here is one of my favorite gas hacks to try!

Instagram Reel for baby gas hack |The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

 

5. Hunger

 

 

Yes, almost all babies are going to wake up if they are hungry. If you just fed your baby before putting them to sleep then you might think there is no way they could wake up 45 minutes later hungry. However, it’s possible they didn’t get a full feed. This is especially true if you fed them to sleep. 

The way to prevent this is to ensure your baby is getting a good full feed before bed. In order for this to be successful you might want to consider keeping them awake for the feed. If they are drifting off during the feed then it’s really hard to tell if they are actually done the feed, or they are being soothed to sleep before they are full. 

 

False start at bedtime because baby is hungry |The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

 

Do babies grow out of false starts?

 

If false starts at bedtime are happening then the first thing we want to do is try and prevent them. 

 

If you have done ALLLLL the things and your baby is still having false starts, it could be developmental and something they will grow out of. I find that some babies go through a phase that can last a few weeks and for a small minority of babies, it can last months and is something they eventually grow out of. I know, not the answer you are hoping for. 

 

That being said, being mentally and physically prepared for them can make a big difference. 

 

If you are doing sleep learning and you feel confident that your baby can handle a bit more learning then it’s ok to give them a bit of time and space to see if they go back to sleep (assuming that they are in their zone of proximal development). 

 

If you are not doing sleep learning and the false start happens, then depending on the age of your baby and their sleep skills, you can still give some time and space to try to go back to sleep or of course, you can support them back to sleep.

 

It is a lot easier to do this if your own needs are met (e.g., you have already had dinner) and you are ready with headphones and an ebook/audiobook/Netflix in case you are going to be rocking/contact sleeping for a bit. 

 

Baby contact sleeping after false start |The Peaceful Sleeper

 

 

How to stop false starts at bedtime? 

 

 

The best way to stop false starts at bedtime is to explore the “why” behind them happening. If you are able to determine the reason for why your baby is having false starts, then you can work to prevent them from happening. 

 

As I outlined in the section about what causes false starts at bedtime, overtiredness is the most common reason. If that’s not the case, then it could also be undertiredness, a scheduling issue, pain or discomfort, or hunger.

 

I suggest choosing what you feel is the most likely cause, making the necessary tweaks, and then collecting data for a few days. If you are not seeing improvement in the false starts after 3-5 days then reevaluate. It could mean further tweaks for that cause or exploring a different potential “why”. 

 

If you would like help creating a systematic plan for getting to the root of false starts at bedtime and preventing them from happening, let’s chat!

 

 

 

Recap on false starts at bedtime 

 

False starts at bedtime can be incredibly frustrating and overwhelming. Especially when you are on edge wondering if it will happen that night or not. 

 

It can be helpful to have a plan for how you will handle them if they happen, and also be empowered with the knowledge of why they might be happening so you can work on preventing them. 

 

The main reasons why false starts happen are: 

  • Overtiredness
  • Undertiredness
  • Scheduling Issues
  • Pain or Discomfort
  • Hunger 

 

It could also be a developmental phase that your baby will grow out of, however we definitely want to rule out everything else first! 

 

Don’t forget, we are here to help you figure this out! In a 30-60 minute consultation, we can help you get to the bottom of why the false start at bedtime is happening and collaboratively create a plan to prevent them from happening!

 

Click here to grab a consultation!  

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