There’s nothing worse than putting your sweet little baby down for the night, anticipating all the things you will do that evening. Catch up on your favorite show? Read a few chapters of a book? Maybe clean up the piles of dishes in the kitchen or fold that laundry that’s been piling up on your bed? Or my personal favorite: go to bed early yourself.
But just as you’re about ready to dive in to your chosen activity for the evening, you hear those dreaded cries from the monitor. Looking at the clock, it’s been exactly 32 minutes.
Welcome to something every parent and sleep consultant dreads: The False Start.
What is a false Start?
A false start is exactly that: Your baby starts their night time sleep, but wakes up within one sleep cycle and oftentimes has a hard time going back to sleep for the rest of the night. These may happen once in a while or every single night, like clockwork. It can be such an exhausting ritual to basically start bedtime all over again, night after night when you are so tired and ready to be done yourself.
The 3 Main Causes:
As annoying as a false start may be, they aren’t exactly a mystery. False starts often have a few different causes:
- An overtired baby. An overtired baby may be a result of too long of wake times throughout the day (you’ve been going 3 hours between naps when 2.5 hours may be more appropriate) OR unbalanced wake times (a way longer wake time before bed compared to the rest of the day). Try shortening those wake times (even by just 15 minutes!) OR balance the wake times to make sure they are more even throughout the day.
- An undertired baby. Your baby may be treating bedtime like a nap simply because they aren’t tired enough for a full night of sleep yet. Try extending those wake times (slowly!) to see if that helps your little one push through that false start. Add only 15 minutes every few days to be sure you aren’t pushing your baby too far (which would result in over-tiredness).
- Too much assistance to go to sleep at night. If your baby is not going into their crib fully awake, a false start is much more likely to occur. This is especially true if you transfer your sleeping baby into the crib without them even realizing. Try moving the bedtime feed to the very first step of the routine to be sure your babe isn’t getting too sleepy while eating. Also be very sure you’re not doing too much rocking/snuggling right before going into the crib. While these sweet moments seem harmless, they can cause a false start if your baby is too drowsy before going to sleep at night.
After you’ve made some adjustments to fix this false start- give it time. Even if you’re doing everything perfectly, it can take a few days for these sneaky false starts to fully disappear.
But What to do in the Moment?
When your baby is awake during that false start, it’s tempting to want to do anything possible to get them to go back to sleep as quickly as possible (so you can un-pause your show). However, it’s vital your baby goes back to sleep on their own after this wake up (otherwise there’s a great chance you’ll be up again in another hour or two). Resist the urge to feed your baby back to sleep (hunger is not the issue) or rock your baby back to sleep. Instead, just offer some gentle support with your baby still in the crib (such as some pats, rubs, or singing) so they can drift back off to sleep on their own.
Has your baby ever experienced a false start? I know how frustrating they can be to figure out the cause. Even as a trained sleep consultant they can be tricky! If you need a bit more help figuring out the cause (is my baby over tired OR under tired!?), please reach out! I’d love to help you dig into the root cause so you can get your evenings back!