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Five reasons for False Starts

Baby waking up from false starts in bed between parents

False start bedtimes can be super frustrating! It’s the end of the day and you are exhausted and have worked hard to get your little one down to bed only to find 30-45 minutes later they have woken up. What is going on?!

Firstly, If your little one is 3-4 months of age false starts are developmentally normal and you are not alone here. Your little one may treat bedtime like a nap and then we feel like we have to roll with another bedtime routine to get them down again! This isn’t forever, go with a later bedtime for now and know that by 16 weeks of age is when we really do want to tackle bringing bedtime earlier - ideally no later than 7 pm.

Here are the main reasons for false starts and how you can help your little one:

1. Your little one is overtired

An overtired baby has a spike in cortisol and not only can struggle to fall asleep and settle easily but also struggle to STAY asleep too. When our little ones are overtired it’s much more of a struggle to transition into their next sleep cycle. They wake up soon after going down and you may have to start the bedtime process all over again.

Sleep tip: Make sure you check their awake windows are age appropriate and try to bring bedtime earlier for a few days - even by 15 minutes. An early bedtime can help compensate for overtiredness that has built throughout the day.

For ideal routines and wake windows check out the Ultimate Routines Guide which covers all of this and more!

2. Your little one is falling asleep during their bedtime feeding

You know that feeling when bubs get into that beautiful marshmallowy state and sinks into your arms on that bedtime feed? Well sometimes, this lovely chilled sleepy feed doesn’t actually help with the bedtime routine and is more of a hindrance. For some babies, this results in them getting a bit of a second wind when they wake up from a sleep cycle. This sleepy feed can wipe away some of the sleep drive they need to stay asleep.

If this is the case, work on keeping them awake during their feed. It can feel like a catch-22 when you know they are so distracted out in the lounge feeding! They are whipping on and off the breast or bottle, looking around, engaging with everyone and it may not feel like they are consuming a good full feed! We may think the dim room, sleepy feed helps with sleep, but often it's the opposite.

Sleep tip: Try shifting their feed earlier in the bedtime routine and have a clear distinction between feeding and sleeping. A story and cuddles after the feed and then moving on with bedtime can make a huge difference to these false starts.

To make toddler bedtimes smoother - download my free Toddler Bedtime Cards!

Free download of Toddler Bedtime Flashcards

3. Your little one has gone down into their cot completely asleep or very drowsy

This is a big contributing factor to false starts. If your little one comes to the top of their sleep cycle (around the 30-45 minute mark) and finds things different to when they fell asleep (e.g., they are no longer in your arms or the dummy has fallen out etc), then there’s a blimming good chance they are going to call out. They will be crying out for you to come back and recreate what it was that got them off to sleep in the first place! If they weren’t in their cot when they fell asleep, then conditions have changed and they wake startled that things aren’t the same as when they fell asleep.

Need help? The key here is teaching your little one to fall asleep in their cot independently. If you are struggling with this and need help here, book a consultation where we can work together to combat these false starts and teach them how to move through the motions of calm to drowsy to asleep happily in their own cot!

4. Your little one is uncomfortable

If you’ve fed off to sleep and they haven’t managed a decent burp then they have a higher chance of waking here soon after going down. Discomfort can also be caused by them digesting new foods. Make sure dinner solids aren’t too close to bedtime.

5. Your little one is under-tired and therefore not enough sleep pressure has built

If their awake window in the afternoon wasn’t long enough then they may be under-tired when they go down. This is quite common when we are transitioning from 3-2 naps.

Sleep tip: Try to slowly increase their awake time by 10-15 minutes to allow the sleep pressure to build. Often they wake with the false start quite perky and don’t seem to want to go back to bed if under-tiredness is the cause!

Now you know why your little one may be waking soon after going down… the good news is that these false starts don't need to be your reality for long! You can enjoy your little one's bedtime knowing they will stay fast asleep overnight. If you need help changing these false starts - reach out today and we can have your little one just loving sleep in no time.

Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant, Cherie Richards

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