False Starts – Why they happen and how to stop them!

I’m guessing we all know what I’m referring to here when I refer to a “False Start,” but just in case, let’s define it before we go any further. 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 old “nighttime wake up” is because they’re caused by different things and therefore have different solutions. A nighttime wake up is similar, obviously, but occurs after baby’s been asleep for at least an hour or so. Nighttime wake ups are usually the result of either hunger or a baby’s inability to string their sleep cycles together. But false starts are a different and here are the three usual suspects.


 If your baby’s uncomfortable, there’s a good chance they won’t sleep well. Teething, gas, reflux, or even just being too warm or too cool can all cause baby to wake up quickly after they first manage to settle. You can likely find FALSE STARTS remedies, temporary or permanent, to the first three by talking to your pediatrician. As for the temperature issue, I have a really handy guide to dressing your baby appropriately for different temperature nurseries. Just fire me an email and I’ll send it your way, free of charge.

Lack of 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 the second is our homeostatic sleep drive, which is the body’s natural urge to sleep after exerting ourselves during the day. Given how quickly babies developed, their 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 in order to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bed.


This is where things can get a little challenging, 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 actually causes baby to get quite energetic, making it difficult for them to get to sleep – we call this the second wind. In this case, you might want to move bedtime up by 20-30 minutes. And that’s the rub, because as you might already have noticed, we’re now dealing with the same symptoms that we were in the earlier scenario, except instead of baby not getting enough awake time before bed, they’ve actually had too much. Two completely opposite causes resulting in very similar symptoms, but requiring 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? Well, I happen to have a great little scheduling table that I’d be happy to share with you as well, (once again, just send me an email) or you could try the trial and error approach. If you do though, 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, fitful 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!

Sleep well