False Starts: Is Your Baby Waking Up Shortly After Bedtime?

false starts gentle sleep tips sleep coaching sleep consultant Dec 07, 2023

Ahhhh.. You finally sit down to have some kid free time after a long day (and possibly a long bedtime!)...Annnnd they’re up again and need a resettle within the hour. 

This is a false start and in my opinion, these are one of the toughest sleep hiccups to tackle!

Not only are they frustrating for the parents, but they are also a little tough to de-code because there are so many reasons why they may happen.

Getting curious around the top culprits can really help to de-code what might need to tweaked for your little one!

Here is a checklist of common culprits: 


Let's dive deeper into the most common reasons for false starts: 


Reason 1: Sleep Pressure 

The number one reason I see false starts! If your baby has been stretched too far, they may experience a false start likewise, if they haven’t had enough awake time or if bedtime is too early, they may experience a false start.

If your baby seems really upset before bed, tricky to settle and then crashes to sleep (within 5 minutes) before having a false start, sleep pressure may be too high – try bringing bedtime earlier!

If your baby is relatively happy in their awake time before bed, isn’t showing a lot of tired cues and takes 20+ minutes to settle followed by a false start, you may need more sleep pressure – try pushing bedtime out!

Reason 2: Discomfort 

If your little one is in any kind of discomfort, they may experience false starts. This can be really common when starting solids or if they are having new foods at dinner time. Offering solids in the middle of the day and keeping new foods to the lunch meal or earlier may help!

If your baby is falling asleep on their last feed, consider if they may be waking from genuine hunger to finish the feed, or, if they are taking a full feed before falling asleep, holding them upright and attempting to burp by gently rubbing up their back may help!

Reason 3: Environmental factors and stimulation 

Head into the room and consider the sleep environment. The nights are brighter in your location, could this be making sleep tricky?

Consider the home environment before sleep – are there lots of lights or TV on? Optimise sleep hygiene by dimming the home and removing screens an hour or so before bedtime and see if this helps!

Do you have a calm, connection filled wind down? If not, introducing one is shown to reduce both physical and mental stimulation as well as building closeness before navigating the separation of sleep.

*Remember, what one baby may find relaxing another may find overstimulating. Find what works for you and your unique baby

Reason 4: Are they looking for something? 

This one is often overlooked but is still very relevant! Is your baby waking and looking for one thing to be able to continue sleeping?

An example may be a baby who uses a dummy to settle, but is waking to have the dummy replaced.

If you suspect sleep associations are at play, layering in multiple sleep associations can really help your baby to have more to draw from in order to get back to sleep.

Reason 5: Developmental 

Sometimes, false starts really are developmental and are a tricky season that needs to pass all on its own. If you have checked off all of the main contributors and are still experiencing false starts, you may fit into this category.

As frustrating as this can feel, there is only so much we can control when it comes to sleep, so shifting focus to what you can control and focusing on ways to make them more manageable can help.

  • Can you have an early dinner so that its not interrupted?
  • Download a good podcast or an audio book to listen to while you are resettling, turning it into ‘you time’
  • If possible, have a partner or other caregiver resettle the false start
  • Try holding your baby for the first sleep cycle and transferring to the cot thereafter

And remember, this too shall pass!

Hope this helps! 

Claire xo 

Need more help? 

If you've tried everything above, you might benefit from 1:1 sleep support. False starts can be so tricky! 

1:1 Consultations (Worldwide!): HERE

The Gentle Sleep Coach Membership: HERE 

 Age Specific On-Demand Sleep Guides: HERE