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False starts – what are they, and why are they happening?

What is a false start?

Are you placing your baby down to sleep, and then 20-60 minutes later they're calling out for you again? This right here is known as a false start!

So you've just got your baby settled to sleep and BAM, they’re up and may be looking for support to get back to sleep again. This can sometimes happen once, or a few times before they settle for the rest of the night. False starts can happen as a one off, however, they can also develop into a pretty frustrating habit.

So, let’s have a look at a few reasons why your child may be having a false start at bedtime, and what we can do to eliminate them.

1. Is your baby overtired?

The most common culprit for false starts is over tiredness. This can be due to a lack of overall day sleep, or a too long wake window at the end of th

e day. By the end of the day your baby or toddler may be quite exhausted and struggling to settle into a deeper sleep. Try moving bedtime forward by 15 minutes, or work on consolidating their day sleep and aiming for an age-appropriate total of day sleep. Take a look at my routine guide for 3 weeks to 3 years, for age appropriate routines to optimise day and night sleep.

2. Are they having micro naps?

Does your baby or toddler fall asleep whilst they were feeding at bedtime and wake to finish their feed 30 minutes later? If so, try bringing your feed before bed a little earlier to ensure they take a full feed before settling down for the night.

3. Are they under tired - Is bedtime too early?

Are you simply trying to settle your baby for the night, when they’re not quite ready? They’re treating bedtime as a nap, then getting up raring to go for another few hours. If your baby is still taking 3 naps, consider if they need this to be shortened, or if they need a bit longer awake before putting them down for the night. For babies below 3-4 months, they tend to settle down for the night a bit later (7-8pm), in which case try having another short nap and heading for a slightly later bedtime for a bit longer.

4. Are environmental factors causing a false start?

Is your environment conducive to sleep? Ensure your baby is dressed appropriately for the temperature, and no lights or sound could be waking them. If you’re not yet using one, I recommend introducing a white noise machine to block out external sounds that could disturb your sleeping baby. Also, during the summer months your babies room may still be quite light when you’re placing them down at bedtime. So, try using some blackout curtains or shades, as light sends signals to your babies brain that it’s time to be awake.

5. Are they overstimulated before bedtime?

Can you look to dim lighting before bed or introduce a wind down routine. Is there too much screen time at the end of the day, interfering with melatonin? If so, try to avoid exposure to screens for 1-2 hours before bedtime, especially for toddlers.

6. Are you experiencing settling issues?

Is your baby having difficulty settling and resettling independently? If your baby needs lots of assistance with rocking/feeding/patting to sleep, they may wake after one sleep cycle and look for this input to get back to sleep again. Are they calling out and seeking support to get back through to another sleep cycle? If so, now may be a good time to work towards some independent settling, with some guidance.

If you're having trouble getting to the bottom of your false start and need help with your baby or toddlers sleep. Get in touch for a consultation, and we can put together a plan to help your baby or toddler settle down for the night without these pesky false starts.

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