I’m guessing we all know what I’m referring to here, and that I’m not using industry jargon when I refer to a false start, but just in case, let’s define it.

Unless you’re very lucky, I mean exceptionally lucky, you’ve likely experienced a false start. You put your little one down for the night, they close their eyes, nod off, and then wake up again in about 20-30 minutes. That specific situation is what we’re referring to here.

The reason it’s important to distinguish between this scenario and the regular “night-time waking” is because they’re caused by different things and therefore have different solutions. A night-time wake-up is similar, obviously, but occurs after the 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 link their sleep cycles together. If your babies are over six months of age and had a full feed before bed, then hunger likely isn’t the culprit, and if they’re unable to string their sleep cycles together, well, that’s another conversation altogether and a great reason to chat with me 😉.

But false starts, as I mentioned, are a different situation and can often be solved fairly easily. The first step, as with any problem, is to identify the cause, and when it comes to false starts, here are the three usual suspects:

1. Discomfort

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 warm or too cold can all cause a baby to wake up quickly after it first manages to settle. You can likely find remedies, temporary or permanent, to the first three by talking to your GP/paediatrician. As for the temperature issue, I have a really handy guide to dressing your baby appropriately for different temperatures that I’d be happy to share with you. Just send me an email and I’ll send it your way, free of charge.

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 the 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 to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bed.

3. Overtiredness

This is where things can get a little tricky 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 causes our 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. And that’s the tricky part, because as you might already have noticed, we’re now dealing with the same symptoms that we were in the not enough sleep pressure scenario, except instead of baby not getting enough awake time before bed, they’ve actually had too much. Two completely opposite causes result in very similar symptoms but require 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? 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 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 one of these solutions takes care of your little one’s false starts, but if the problem persists it might be time to consider some one-on-one help from a sleep consultant, and it just so happens, I know a great one. 🙂