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  • Writer's pictureMary Cantwell

False Starts: Why baby treats bedtime like nap time

Bedtime is complete and the baby is sleeping soundly while we are cleaning up the kitchen from the day. We hear crying coming from the monitor.  It’s only been 30 minutes?! What just happened? This is known as a False Start.  It is a part of baby sleep that we will see at least once in their sleep journey.  Let’s dive into what a false start is, what can contribute to false starts and how to help solve them when we see them pop up.

What is a False Start

A false start is when a baby wakes up 30 to 45 minutes after bedtime. It can be very frustrating and confusing on why!  Baby showed all the tired cues at bedtime and fell asleep quickly.  What is going on?!

Causes of False Starts

Different scenarios can contribute to false starts.  Let’s chat about what may be happening so we can manage it and work through a solution.

Wake Windows

  • When wake windows are off it can lead to being overtired or undertired which can contribute to wake-ups at night (including those pesky false starts!)

  • Solution: Use age-appropriate wake windows as a starting point and tweak as necessary.  If within your child’s wake window, either push it earlier or later in 15-minute increments until they fall asleep faster and the false start smooths out.

wake windows by age

Asleep or too drowsy at bedtime:

  • If the baby is asleep or too drowsy and when they wake, they realize they are no longer with us and get pulled immediately out of the cycle instead of transitioning into the next cycle. This can range from being rocked to sleep or falling asleep at the bottle

  • Solution:  Put baby to bed, not sleep.  Babies need to be aware that they are in their sleep space before they fall asleep.  Imagine if we were asleep on our couch and woke up outside on our porch.  We would freak out because we remember being in our house!  On feeding to sleep, move the feed up in the routine so there is a space between feed and sleep.  An example is bath, pajamas, feed, book, bed.

Daytime sleep needs adjusting:         

  • Too much day sleep can pierce the sleep pressure for bedtime and make bedtime feel and act like a nap. On the flip side, if not enough they go into bed overtired which makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. 

  • Solution: Capping daytime sleep to protect nighttime sleep

daytime sleep needs

Last nap was too late:

  • If their last nap (or if one nap) is too late in the day, it affects bedtime.  We want to have enough awake time from nap to bedtime to set bedtime up for falling asleep.

  • Solution: Use the chart below as a guide to wake your child from their last nap of the day or if on one nap when to wake up by.

last nap babies and toddlers

Nap Transition

  • False starts can occur when the child is ready to make a nap transition due to sleep needs changing.

  • Solution: Understanding the signs of dropping a nap at the appropriate age to help protect nighttime sleep and change their sleep needs.

nap transitions baby and toddler

If we feel we have done all the above and are stuck in the false start cycle, let’s schedule a Discovery Call so that we can chat through what is happening sleep-wise and so you can ask any questions.  Sleep well!


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