I’m guessing we all know what I’m referring to here, when referring to “False Starts,” but just in case, let’s define it before we go any further.
What are false starts?
Unless you’re very lucky, most likely you’ve experienced one of these first hand. You put your little one down for the night, they fall asleep and then wake up after 20 – 30 minutes.
The reason it’s important to distinguish between this scenario and the regular old “night time wake up” is because they’re caused by different things and therefore have different solutions. A night wake is similar, obviously, but occurs after baby’s been asleep for at least an hour or so.
Night time wake ups are usually the result of either hunger or a baby’s inability to string sleep cycles together. If your baby’s over six months of age and had a full feed before bed, then hunger likely isn’t the culprit. If they’re unable to move from one cycle into the next consistently, it may be time to look at independent settling.
But false starts, as I mentioned, are a bit different and can often be solved fairly easily. The first step, as with any problem, is to identify the cause. Here are 3 things to consider:
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, wind, reflux, or even just being too hot or too cold can all cause baby to wake up soon after settling. To remedy this, it can be worth looking at how you’re spacing solids and feeds. If you suspect reflux, it can be worth a discussion with your GP.
As for the temperature issue, aim for a room temperature between 16 – 20°C. Also follow the guidelines with your sleep sack for how to dress your baby.
2. 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. And 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. This is why they need so much daytime sleep. But as they get older, that pressure accumulation starts to slow down. Then they require 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. It may be time to either drop a nap or extend awake time to allow that pressure to build before bed. This should help to prevent the false start.
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. It can actually cause baby to get a second wind, making it difficult to get to sleep. In this case, you might want to move bedtime earlier by 20-30 minutes.
And that’s the tricky thing, because 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. Two completely opposite causes resulting in very similar symptoms, but requiring opposite solutions. This makes it difficult to know which course of action to take to remedy the situation.
So, how do you know which one you’re dealing with and implement the right solution for your baby’s false starts?
I’ve put together The Nap Guide from 0 – 3 years that sets out age appropriate schedules and sleep needs right up until your baby stops napping.
If you’re still unsure, I’d suggest starting with moving bedtime earlier. 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 it goes. It’s much safer to move bedtime earlier and see if that solves the problem first.
Hopefully one of these solutions takes care of your little one’s false starts.
If the problem persists, I’m here to help! Just follow the link to my waiting list to find out more about working together.