What is a “False Start?” Let’s define it, before we try and solve it. Most of you have experienced a “false start” with your little one firsthand. A “false start” is when you put your baby down for the night, they close their eyes, fall asleep, and then wake up in about 20-30 minutes. The reason it’s important to distinguish between a “false start” and a “nighttime wake up” is because they’re caused by different things and therefore have different solutions. A “nighttime wake” occurs after baby’s been asleep for at least an hour. Nighttime wake ups are typically the result of either hunger or a baby’s inability to string their sleep cycles together. If your baby is over six months of age and has had a full feed before bed, then hunger most likely is not the culprit, and if they’re unable to string their sleep cycles together, well, that’s another conversation. It is also a great reason to hire a sleep coach. 😉
False Starts, as I mentioned, are different and can often be solved fairly easily. The first step, as with any problem, is to identify the cause, and when it comes to a “false start”, here are the three most common:
If your baby’s uncomfortable, there’s a good chance they won’t sleep well, as is the case with anybody of any age. Teething, gas, reflux, or even just being too warm or too cool can all cause baby to wake up quickly after they first manage to settle. You can likely find remedies, temporary or permanent, to the first three by talking to your pediatrician. As for the temperature issue, I have a great guide to dressing your baby appropriately for different temperatures that I’d be happy to share with you. Just send me an email here and I’ll send it your way, free of charge.
- Lack of Sleep Pressure
There are two things that help us fall asleep. One is our circadian rhythm, which signals our brain to start producing melatonin when it gets dark. The second one is homeostatic sleep drive, which is the body’s natural urge to sleep as we spend time awake, exert ourselves physically, heal from sickness or injury, or experience exciting or stressful situations. Given how quickly they’re developing, babies’ homeostatic sleep drive builds up much quicker than it does in the average adult. (A big part of the reason they need so much daytime sleep.) But as they get older, that pressure accumulation starts to slow down, and requires more time awake between naps to build up to the point where they can fall asleep, and stay asleep, at bedtime. If your baby takes a long time to fall asleep when you first put them down for the night, and seems active and happy during that time, low sleep pressure could likely be the cause, and it may be time to either drop a nap or reschedule their naps in order to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bed.
This is where things can get a little challenging, because contrary to popular belief, overtiredness doesn’t look like a more intense version of regular tiredness. Overtiredness causes cortisol secretion at the time when we want it the least, and actually causes baby to get quite energetic, making it difficult for them to get to sleep. In this case, you might want to move bedtime up by 20-30 minutes.
Now herein lies the confusion, because as you might already have noticed, we’re now dealing with the same symptoms that we were in the earlier scenario, except instead of baby not getting enough awake time before bed, they’ve actually had too much. These are two completely opposite causes resulting in very similar symptoms, but requiring opposite solutions, which makes it difficult to know which course of action to take to remedy the situation.
So, how do you know which scenario you’re dealing with and implement the right fix? Well I actually have a wonderful little scheduling table that I’d be happy to share with you as well, (once again, just send me an email ) or you could try the trial-and-error approach. If you go with that strategy, I strongly suggest you start with moving bedtime up. Overtiredness is a vicious cycle once it takes hold. Baby doesn’t sleep well which results in short, fitful naps the next day, which leads to bad sleep at night, and on and on it goes. It’s much safer to move bedtime earlier and see if that solves the problem.
Hopefully these tips can help get your little one off to sleep, and staying asleep! If they don’t…reach out, it might be time to consider some one on one sleep coaching to get everything on track! Check out what some of my amazing, rested clients are saying about their journey to sleep here.