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What is a 'False Start'?

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Does this sound familiar? You've gone through your usual bedtime routine, your baby has fallen asleep beautifully and just as you're getting ready to put your feet up (you know after cleaning the kitchen etc.) - your baby wakes up again, usually after 30-45 minutes.

baby sleeping bedtime false start waking up again

This can be hugely frustrating, but there are a few things you can do to make sure your baby has the best possible start to their night.

Are you still in the newborn days?

If your baby is still under 3 months, they may not be ready for an early bedtime and might be better off with an 8:30/9pm start to their night. Most likely they are treating this 'false start' as an extra nap, which is completely fine at this age. Young babies often sleep a lot during the day and nap a lot more frequently than older babies, meaning their days are structured very differently too. While you might like a bit more of a routine, this is often hard to achieve with a newborn. From about 12-16 weeks, aim to bring bedtime forward again to avoid overtiredness, as your baby gradually settles into a routine.

I vividly remember those newborn months (actually, they are mostly a blur) and going to bed at the same time as our then baby. Our evenings were mostly spent trying to rock, burp, feed, or somehow calm our colicky baby. There was no chance she would've gone to bed at 7pm. From 12 weeks onwards we tried to have the kids in bed a bit earlier so we could actually have some me time too.

Sleep Pressure - your child is over- or undertired

Knowing your child's awake windows can help in nailing down why they are having false starts. If they didn't sleep enough during the day and have become overtired, their body is likely producing cortisol which makes it difficult for your child to connect sleep cycles. If this is the case make it an early bedtime.

If, on the other hand they had too much sleep, they haven't built up enough sleep pressure to go to sleep, and a quick nap is all they need (or so their body thinks!). Try to cap their nap(s) by waking them earlier, or bring the nap forward so that you can avoid those late afternoon slumbers.

Starting the day too late

If your child regularly starts the day much later than 8am, they simply mightn't be ready for bed at 7-8pm. Try to start the day at roughly the same time each day to help your child's body clock (circadian rhythm) adjust, which can be super helpful when it comes to sleep. I like working with a 7am/7pm routine, but some families might prefer an 8am/8pm routine, whatever you do, aim for consistency and allow for enough hours in the day to build up sleep pressure for a successful night.

How is your baby falling asleep?

If your baby likes to fall asleep in your arms or while having a feed, and you put them into their cot fast asleep, chances are your child is waking briefly after their first sleep cycle, only to realise they are not being held anymore (shock horror!). Cue your baby crying out, looking to create that same environment from when they first went to sleep. In your arms, being rocked or fed. This is completely normal behaviour, a hangover from our caveman days where we would briefly wake between sleep cycles to check if any saber-toothed tigers had entered our cave. If everything were as before, we would roll over and continue on into the next sleep cycle. We still do this every night, but mostly can't recall these wake-ups in the morning. This is where teaching independent sleep can be SUPER helpful. Ideally, we want our children to be able to put themselves to sleep, so that when they wake up, they can also put themselves BACK to sleep. If you'd like some help in teaching your child independent sleep, book in for a call to see how I can help.

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