False Start Bedtimes: Why is my baby awake again already?

baby waking up soon after falling asleep. False start bedtimes

Is your baby waking up again soon after bedtime? Maybe they are up again just 5 minutes after they’ve fallen asleep? Or regularly waking 30-45 minutes or an hour after bedtime? If this is happening to you, then you might be experiencing what we call a false start or a false start bedtime.

Some babies and toddlers only experience false starts once in a while, whereas others seem to follow this pattern of waking night after night. So, what causes these false start bedtimes and how can you stop them from happening?

What is a false start bedtime?

A false start at bedtime is when your baby wakes up shortly after you’ve put them down to bed for the night. 

This wake up commonly happens after their first sleep cycle ends, around 30-45 minutes after you’ve put them down to sleep at bedtime. Or they might be waking up just 5-10 minutes after they’ve fallen asleep, or even an hour later. 

These false starts can be a really common and frustrating sleep challenge and make your evenings feel unpredictable. You might have only just settled them down to sleep before they wake up, or you might be in the middle of your own evening routine when, “surprise!”, you hear them wake up again!

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What can cause false starts at bedtimes?

False starts at bedtime are generally caused by one or more of these three areas; when they are sleeping (naps and bedtime), how they are used to falling asleep and where they are sleeping (their sleep environment). Here we’ll talk through possible causes of false starts in some more detail…

1. Your baby isn't tired enough at bedtime

False starts can happen if your baby isn’t tired enough at bedtime. Babies (and adults) need to build up sleep pressure in order to fall asleep and stay asleep. Also known as homeostatic sleep drive, sleep pressure builds while we are awake. If there isn’t enough sleep pressure (i.e. you baby is undertired) at bedtime, then this can lead to a false start.

If your baby has slept for too long during the day, or they haven’t had enough awake time between their last nap and bedtime, then they may not have built up enough sleep pressure to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep at bedtime.  

2. Your baby is overtired at bedtime

Yep, we know, we just said a false start bedtime can happen if your baby is undertired and now we’re saying the opposite! 

In some cases a false start may happen if your baby is overtired at bedtime. In our experience, overtiredness isn’t as big an issue as you may be led to believe, but for some babies being overtired could lead to a more disrupted night.

Your baby may be overtired if:

  • One or more of their naps has been shorter than they need.
  • They have been awake for longer between naps, or between their last nap and bedtime, than they can comfortably manage.
  • They had a very early start to their day, or disrupted night’s sleep.

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3. Your baby might need time to unwind before bed

Babies and toddlers (and adults too!) can become overstimulated by lots of noise and activity. If your baby is overstimulated they might be irritable, cry, be difficult to calm and might not seem to want to be held or put down either. Overstimulation can seem very similar to overtiredness.

For some babies, being overstimulated before bedtime can lead to disruption during the night, including false start bedtimes.

In our experience, it is much more common for babies and toddlers to be overstimulated before bed than to be truly overtired. We want them to be tired enough to fall asleep and stay asleep whilst also having a chance to wind down and feel ready for a relaxed bedtime.

A calming, predictable bedtime routine can help your little one have a chance to wind down and feel ready for sleep.

4. How your baby falls asleep might be affecting their night time sleep

For some babies, how they fall asleep can have a noticeable impact on their sleep, for example, they might have false starts, frequent waking through the rest of the night, shorter naps, or difficulty falling asleep.

We all, babies and adults, naturally stir or partially wake between sleep cycles. False starts can happen if your baby wakes up at the end of a sleep cycle (around 30-45 minutes after falling asleep) and needs your support getting back to sleep. They might also wake up much sooner, even 5 minutes after you put them down.

If your little one isn’t falling asleep independently at the start of the night, they may benefit from some support in practicing how to fall asleep and settle themselves back to sleep when they naturally wake up between sleep cycles.

We can always make changes to how our baby’s sleep and support them in practicing falling asleep in a different way, if we find that our current approaches start to feel unsustainable. 

Better sleep is just a click away…

A step-by-step guide for everything you need to know about your baby or toddler’s sleep. Expert advice and strategies to help you create the perfect routine for YOUR little one and help them settle to sleep in a way that works for your family.  

5. Something else is waking them up soon after bedtime

There are a few other factors to consider that may be causing a false start at bedtime and waking your baby up in the minutes or hour after they’ve fallen asleep.

  • Are they hungry? If they fell asleep feeding, didn’t finish their last feed or your timings for feeds before bed aren’t quite right for your baby then they might wake up hungry close to bedtime.
  • Are they uncomfortable? If they are too hot, too cold,  teething, need a nappy change or their bedding and clothing are bothering them then they may wake and find it hard to fall back to sleep.
  • Noise or disturbances? Noise from around the house could be waking them up – if you’re watching television, tidying up, cooking, using the bathroom or putting other children to bed it can disturb your baby after they have fallen asleep. White noise can help mask sounds from around the house. 

How to stop false starts at bedtime?

We’ve talked about possible causes of false start bedtimes, now let’s explore possible ways to stop them from happening…

#1 Adjust your baby's schedule and routine

Making a change to your baby’s schedule and routine can be most common solution to false starts. You can experiment with changes to find the right balance for your little one’s current sleep needs. These changes might be…

Shorten naps: There is only so much sleep a baby or toddler can take over 24 hours – if they are sleeping for longer than they need during the day then it can make it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It might be time to reduce the length of one or more of their naps to help get night time sleep back on track.

Adjust nap timings: The length of their naps might be just right, but their scheduling might need some adjustment. If their last nap is happening too close to bedtime then they won’t have the opportunity to build up enough sleep pressure to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Increasing the length of time they are awake before bedtime can help (either by moving their last nap a little earlier, or capping the length of the nap).

Time to drop a nap? False start bedtimes can start to creep in if your baby or toddler is ready for a nap transition i.e. they are ready to drop one of their naps. Babies tend to drop their third nap and settle into a two nap routine between 6-9 months old. Older babies usually drop down to one nap some time between 10-15 months old and the last nap might be dropped altogether any time between 2-4 years.

Make bedtime later: If you feel like your current nap timings are working well for your baby, then another option to tackle the false starts could be to move bedtime back later. This creates a longer wake window between their last nap and bedtime, letting sleep pressure build. It can be as simple as pushing bedtime back by just 15 minutes or so to solve a false start bedtime.

Sleep needs change as our babies get older and their routine needs to adapt to keep up with these changes. In our sleep courses we provide routines for different ages and stages (for 0-5 months, 6-9 months, 10-18 months and 1.5-4 years old) to help you find the perfect routine to suit your little one.

#2 Create a predictable calming bedtime routine

Having a consistent bedtime routine can work wonders in helping your baby wind down and recognize that it’s time for sleep. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated – a series of simple steps leading up to bedtime can be all that is needed to help your baby feel calm and ready for sleep. 

A calming build up to bedtime can help your little one fall asleep more easily and sleep for longer – this can be all that is needed to solve false start bedtimes for some babies and toddlers.

Our sleep courses walk through how to create a bedtime routine that works for your family so you can stick to it and actually enjoy the time together!

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#3 Create an optimal sleep environment

Some babies and toddlers can sleep through noise and activity around them, but others are much more sensitive to potential disturbances and can easily be woken up again after they have gone down to bed at night.

We can try to make where they sleep as quiet and calm as possible to help them fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. Keep their room cool and dress them for the temperature of their room. Make sure their clothes and bedding are suitable and comfortable. Make sure they are well winded, fed and have a clean nappy when they need it.

You can experiment with white noise to mask sounds from within the house and outside. Even small noises like the heating clicking on can be enough to wake some babies during the night.

Where your little one sleeps can have a significant impact on how easily they fall asleep and stay asleep – we guide you through how to create a great sleep environment our sleep courses so you can have feel confident in creating a safe sleep space for your baby or toddler that can support great sleep.

#4 Make changes to how your baby is falling asleep

If your baby or toddler is ready for sleep at bedtime and in a comfortable sleep environment but falling asleep and staying asleep is still a challenge, then the next area we look at is how they are falling asleep.

There is absolutely no right or wrong way for our babies to fall asleep. Some drift off on their own, happily in their cot, crib or bed. Others might be fed, rocked or use a dummy. However you get your little one to sleep is completely up to you. If you get to a point where your method of settling isn’t working for you or your baby anymore, then you can make a change.

It is normal for babies to wake in the night. Sometimes they need a feed, nappy/diaper change or something has disturbed them.

They may naturally wake between sleep cycles and need the same conditions the first fell asleep with again so they can return to sleep.

If your baby is…

  • frequently having false starts at bedtime
  • waking frequently through the night
  • taking a long time to be settled back to sleep when they wake

…then it can be helpful to start looking at changing the way they are falling asleep. Your aim might be make small changes such as move from feeding to sleep to rocking to sleep, or your goal may be to help your little one fall asleep independently.

How you go about making these changes is a personal choice based on what you think would work best for you and your baby. 

Our best selling sleep courses cover all things sleep – including different strategies you can use to support your baby to fall asleep in their own cot, crib or bed and no longer rock/feed/bounce or pace the room with them in your arms.

You can choose an approach to suit you and your baby or toddler – you can go gradually or move more quickly. We give you the strategies and you go for the one that feels right for you! 

We break down the different ways you can approach making sleep changes based on how old your baby or toddler is, just choose the age group closest to your little ones age and see how we can help you all sleep better!

Better sleep is just a click away…

A step-by-step guide for everything you need to know about your baby or toddler’s sleep. Expert advice and strategies to help you create the perfect routine for YOUR little one and help them settle to sleep in a way that works for your family.  

False starts FAQ

Q: Do babies grow out of false starts?

A: Babies sleep patterns and needs change a huge amount in the first weeks, months (and years!). There can be many reasons why sleep can be temporarily disrupted, for example if they are teething, unwell or going through some phases of development or changes in routine such as starting nursery. False starts won’t last forever, You can make some changes to your baby’s routine and approaches to sleep at your own pace and see how they respond.

Q: Could a false start at bedtime happen because my baby is hungry?

A: Yes, you can experience false start bedtimes because your baby has woken hungry not long after they have fallen asleep. For very young babies it is normal for them to need regular feeds. For older babies and toddlers it can be helpful to look at your timings for feeds/meals/snacks in the run up to bedtime to help your little one feel full enough before bed, and be able to sleep for a long stretch at the start of the night.

Q: My baby wakes up 5 minutes after falling asleep - is that a false start?

A: Any wake up within about an hour of falling asleep can be classed as a false start bedtime. Making adjustments to your bedtime routine, length and timings of naps and how your baby is falling asleep can all help with false starts. 

Q: How can I tell if a false start is happening because of overtiredness or undertiredness?

A: It can take some experimenting to find the right balance of sleep for your baby’s current sleep needs. As a general guide, you can consider how quickly your baby is falling asleep. If they are taking a long time to settle to sleep then it can indicate that they aren’t tired enough for bed just yet, and are ready for less day time sleep or a longer gap between their last nap and bedtime. 

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