Have you noticed your baby waking up around 45 minutes after they’ve gone down to bed? If this sounds familiar, you could be experiencing ‘false bedtimes’.
What is a false start bedtime?
A false start bedtime is the name referred to when your little one wakes around 45 minutes after being put down to bed. There are 2 common causes for false start bedtimes including your child’s nap schedule and how they fall asleep.
Let’s take a look at some additional causes below:
Your baby’s bedtime is too early
Babies and toddlers can sometimes seem tired, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for bed just yet. If they have had plenty of long naps, or have had a nap close to bedtime, then this can reduce their need to sleep. Pushing your little one’s bedtime out by just 15 minutes can often fix this, but it’s also worth looking at your child’s schedule to ensure you get the balance right.
Your baby is overtired
Overtired babies tend to wake more frequently throughout the night due to their cortisol levels being increased and often this can be a reason for a false start bedtime. An increase in cortisol levels can lead to adrenaline levels being raised and this can cause your baby to fight sleep. Looking at your child’s schedule can really help here, and often bringing their bedtime forward can fix false starts and help you get your baby back on track.
Signs that your baby is overtired include:
- Longer than average wake windows
- Hysteric crying
- Stiff body or arching back
- Waking 45 minutes to an hour after being put down to sleep extremely cranky and tired
Your baby is poorly or in pain
False start bedtimes can sometimes occur when your baby has an illness or is teething. Think about how hard it is for us adults to settle down for the night when we’re not well, so it’s even harder when you’re little and can’t talk! Often babies with acid reflux will wake up soon after falling asleep because they can’t get comfortable and may need you to help them settle back down. If you have noticed your baby waking regularly and suddenly, it is worth keeping an eye on to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause making them uncomfortable.
Your baby is dozing off during their final feed
If your baby dozes off during their final feed this could be another reason for their false start bedtime. When your little one dozes off, even for a few minutes, this can be enough to energize them and give them a second wind.
Have you ever had a cat nap whilst reading a book only to wake 5 minutes after and then realise you can’t drift off to sleep? It’s the same for babies who drift off while drinking their final bottle.
This micro nap can be enough to ensure that your little one resists sleep for another 45 minutes to an hour.
To combat this, you can try adjusting your final feed to be one of the first parts of your bedtime routine. For example:
- Milk feed
- Read a book
- Dim the lights
- Cuddles and/or lullabies
- Put down in their cot or crib
Another common reason for false start bedtimes is separation anxiety. Although separation anxiety peaks around 18 months of age, it can occur at any time. Some separation anxiety throughout your baby’s life is normal, but it’s best if you try to avoid reinforcing it.
Some ways you can avoid reinforcing it:
- Don't jump to little one as soon as they wake. Give them some settling time to see if they will return to sleep themselves. Often with a little time, they surprise us!
- Don’t bring your child into your bed to sleep with you, while it can be tempting you should focus on making your child feel comfortable and safe first in their own environment.
- Consider whether they can self-settle and if it's time to start working on consistency around that so they are more independent with their sleep.
Everyone wakes between sleep cycles, but 90% of the time, we don’t remember waking. In between sleep cycles, we wake up to understand our surroundings and make sure that we’re safe. And babies do the same thing. The main difference between adults and babies is that babies' sleep cycles are much shorter around 45-90 minutes in the early part of the night. If you are noticing your baby is waking soon after being put down to sleep, it might be that they are struggling to connect sleep cycles. Try not to worry, this is perfectly normal and all a part of your baby’s development and they should start to link as they grow and develop.
One thing that can help is your baby’s sleep environment. When your baby’s sleep environment is right, it can help them connect their sleep cycles much easier, making false start bedtimes a thing of the past. Optimum sleep environments for babies are dark and cool. The use of white noise can also be beneficial, as it can help to block outside noises out meaning your little one may not wake as easily between sleep cycles.
Babies thrive with consistency. Putting them down to bed at a different time every night can severely disrupt their routine and cause false start bedtimes, which is why it’s important to try and put them to sleep at the same time (within 30 minutes either way) each night.
You also want to ensure that your baby is getting the right amount of daytime sleep. If your baby is overtired or has slept too much during the day, you may also experience false start bedtimes. It’s important to follow age-appropriate wake windows here and try to get a routine in place.
If you are still struggling with your baby’s sleep, don’t worry! It won’t last forever and I am here to help you and your little one ensure you get a good night's sleep again!
Remember we offer expert-led sleep guidance from Certified Child Sleep Consultant, Erica Hargaden. This guidance, in our Sleep Series courses, is often described as life-saving while parents navigate the rollercoaster that is child sleep.