False starts at bedtime – why does my baby wake up again so soon?

Is your baby waking up again just 30 minutes or an hour after bedtime? If this is happening to you then you might be experiencing what we call ‘false starts’.

We tend to refer to wake ups that happen between around 20-60 minutes after bedtime as ‘false starts’. But why do they happen and how can you deal with them?

It can be really frustrating when you’ve seen your little one fall asleep at bedtime, only to then wake up again soon after, seemingly refreshed and awake. Some children only experience them once in while whereas others seem to follow this pattern of waking night after night.

There are a few possible reasons for a ‘false start’ at bedtime:

  • Is bedtime too early? Sometimes babies and young children can seem tired, but that doesn’t always mean they are ready to call it a night just yet. If they have had naps that are too long or too late in the day then it can reduce their ‘sleep pressure,’ (the drive to sleep that builds up over the course of the day). Sometimes pushing bedtime out by just 15 minutes or so can be enough to solve this. It is also worth reassessing the length and timing of naps to get the balance of day and night sleep right.

  • Are they overtired? Overtiredness can sometimes be the reason behind a ‘false start’. You might notice that if your baby doesn’t nap as well as normal that they wake shortly after going to bed that night, and can have quite a disturbed night. Again, looking at nap lengths and timings can be helpful. If you’ve had a day where naps have been cut short or oddly timed then a slightly earlier bedtime than normal can help you get back on track.

  • How are they falling asleep? If your baby or child is relying on you to help them fall to sleep, there’s every chance that they are naturally waking after one sleep cycle and looking for support to return to sleep. It might be the time to work on how your little one gets to sleep, and a plan of action to work towards independent sleep. If we fall asleep in one place, it can be quite jarring to wake up elsewhere, so it can be normal for them to cry out after one sleep cycle if they had fallen asleep in your arms.

  • Is something disturbing them? Is there something in baby’s sleep environment that could be a disruptor to sleep? Maybe white noise has switched off, or you have a light that is stimulating, people moving around the house wakes them, or maybe the temperature is too hot or too cold? It is always worth doing a quick audit of what is happening around the time they wake to rule out anything that might be waking them up.

  • Did they have a chance to wind down before bed? Sometimes being overstimulated before bedtime can lead to disruption during the night. Did you do something out of the ordinary before bedtime? Was baby passed around to relatives or visitors before bed? Did you rush in from somewhere and not do your normal routine? Step back and think about your bedtime routine and if you’re little one has a chance to wind down with some predictable steps leading up to sleep.

Want more support with your child’s sleep?

If you would like to learn more about sleep and have guidance on how you can approach achieving a well-rested night’s sleep then check out our online courses.

Available from newborn to 4 years old, our courses are designed to help you learn how you can support your child to sleep better.

We share all the information you need to help you really understand your little one’s sleep and how to help them achieve more predictable naps and restful nights – all from your own computer, phone or tablet whenever it suits you.

Early Days & Foundations of Sleep: 0-5 Months

This course will teach you how you can work towards great sleep habits, without ‘sleep training.’ It provides gentle solutions for settling and works towards the end goal of a settled night’s sleep, whilst understanding and responding to your baby’s needs.

Sleep Success: 6-9 Months

This course covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, a suggested daily routine and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan to support your baby to sleep in their own sleep space.

Sleep Success: 10-18 Months

This course covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, a suggested daily routine, the transition from two naps to one and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan to support your baby to sleep in their own sleep space.

Sleep Success: 1.5 – 4 years

This course which covers a range of topics including the science of sleep, sleep associations, creating a great sleep environment, potential sleep disturbances in this age group, a suggested daily routine, the transition from cot to bed, dropping the daytime nap, early waking and a choice of settling methods including how to make gradual changes. The course will lead you through step by step how to create your own sleep plan.

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