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3 Reasons Your Baby is Having A False Start at Bedtime (And How to Fix Them)

If your baby is having a false start bedtime it can throw off your entire evening. Learn why a false start bedtime happens and how to fix it.

baby waking up in crib after a false start bedtime

Does your baby fall asleep at bedtime, only to wake up within an hour or less? Why does this happen? What can you do about it?

In the sleep world, we call this a false start. A baby falls asleep at bedtime and then wakes up shortly afterwards. It may be as few as 10 or 15 minutes later, or may be as long as an hour or so later.

If this describes bedtime at your house, you know how frustrating false starts are.

False starts at bedtime are super common but why do they happen and how can you help your baby from having them? Let’s dive into false starts so your baby’s bedtime goes much smoother.

To help you better, download my free sleep calculator to see when naptime and bedtime should be based on your baby’s age. Click here to grab it, it’ll be super helpful.

What Causes False Starts at Bedtime?

False starts at bedtime can be pretty common with babies and there’s typically three things that causes them. (These causes are the same reasons why your baby is waking up 30 minutes into nap time too):

1. Baby is Overtired

Often, if you have an overtired baby, you will see false starts. It sounds crazy, but overtired babies often have a hard time staying asleep.

Everyone wakes up very slightly between sleep cycles, but overtired babies tend to wake fully after the first sleep cycle of the night. They may even wake before the first sleep cycle is complete.

2. Baby is Undertired

As frustrating as it may be, false starts can also happen when babies are not sleepy enough at bedtime. They are tired enough to fall asleep, but not tired enough to stay asleep.

Essentially, they treat the first 30-60 minutes of sleep after bedtime as a nap and wake up feeling rested and ready to go.

This can be the case when a baby is ready for longer wake windows. If your baby has had the same sleep schedule for several weeks, the sudden appearance of false starts can mean it’s time for a schedule change.

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3. Sleep Props

The third common cause of false starts is if your baby is not falling asleep on their own.

Sometimes, a baby will start to get drowsy while feeding or rocking. When this happens, your baby is drowsy but awake when you put them in their crib.

That parental help getting drowsy can be just enough of a sleep association / sleep prop that your baby then struggles to return to sleep after their first sleep cycle.

Or, a baby may fall asleep during the bedtime routine, sleep through the transfer to their crib, and wake up shortly afterwards.

Toddlers are not immune from false starts either. False starts are more common in babies under a year old, but we do sometimes see them in young toddlers.

When these young toddlers have false starts, it is usually because they depend on a parent to help them fall to sleep and return to sleep.

Baby awake in crib

Are False Starts Developmental?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, false starts are developmental in the sense that we see them in babies and young toddlers, but don’t really see them in kids or adults.

Think about it: if you are overtired you fall asleep and generally stay asleep. If you go to bed and aren’t sleepy, you will just have a hard time falling asleep. You won’t fall asleep and wake up 30 minutes later full of energy.

So, false starts are a great example of how sleep can be a different ball game for babies than it is for adults.

False starts can also be developmental when they happen as a result of your baby growing and developing. If false starts are happening because your baby is growing, then it’s a good sign that their wake windows need to be increased.

At the same time, the cause of false starts is not usually developmental. This is the case when the trigger is overtiredness or a sleep aid.

Baby sleeping

How Do You Fix A False Start Bedtime?

The good news is that false starts are often fixable. Sometimes the fix is as easy as a schedule tweak.

The first thing to look at when fixing a false start bedtime is to look at your baby’s sleep schedule. Often your baby sleep cues become unreliable, so following a good sleep schedule can help.

If you think false starts are happening because your baby is overtired, then move your baby’s bedtime earlier and/or move naps closer together.

If false starts are happening because your baby is not tired enough at bedtime, move your baby’s bedtime later and/or put more time in between naps.

Fixing a false start bedtime is more challenging if the cause is a sleep aid helping baby to get drowsy or fall to sleep all together.

If this is the cause, start by looking at your baby bedtime routine.

If you think your baby is getting sleepy during the feeding, try shifting the order of your routine. This is where having an eat play sleep routine can be helpful. Move your feeding to the beginning of the routine and leave the lights on to help baby stay awake.

Often, that simple tweak makes a world of difference at bedtime.

If your baby is falling all the way asleep during your bedtime routine or you don’t know how to keep them from getting drowsy at bedtime,, you may want to consider using a sleep training method to help your baby fall asleep without your assistance.

Amy Motroni