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False Start Bedtime: Causes and How to Stop It

false start bedtime

What happens when you’ve gone through the motions of putting your child to bed, only for them to wake up 30 minutes later and refuse to go back to sleep? This phenomenon is known as a “false start bedtime”, and it can be frustrating and exhausting for parents. 

In this article, we will delve into what a false start bedtime is, why they happen, and what you can do to help your child sleep better.

What is a False Start Bedtime?

Also known as “false starts at bedtime”, a false start bedtime happens when a child goes to bed as usual, but wakes up shortly afterward, usually within the first sleep cycle or less. This can happen for various reasons, like  hunger, discomfort, or an inability to self-soothe. 

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False starts can also occur after a period of illness, travel, or disruption in the child’s routine. When children experience a false start at bedtime, they often have difficulty settling back into sleep, which can lead to overtiredness and further nighttime wakeups.

Why Do False Starts Happen?

There are many reasons why a child may experience a false start at bedtime. Some common causes include:

  • Hunger: This is actually a common cause of false starts in infants and young children. While infants may wake up because they are hungry, toddlers may wake up because they want a snack.
  • Discomfort from teething, diaper rash, or illness.
  • Developmental milestones: As children grow and develop, they may go through phases where they experience disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Sleep regressions: These can be particularly challenging for parents, and are very common around the four-month mark, when infants start to become more alert and aware of their surroundings.
  • Your day is starting too late: Most babies need the day to last 12-13 hours, including naps, so if you’re putting them to bed before that, they might not be tired enough yet. 
  • Wake windows aren’t right: Your baby might be getting too much sleep during the day, or they might not be getting enough sleep and feel overtired, which can also cause false starts. 

How to Handle a False Start at Bedtime?

If your child is experiencing false start bedtime, there are several things you can do to help them get back on track. The following are some strategies that you can use to help your child sleep better:

Stick to a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Consistency is key when it comes to establishing healthy sleep habits. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help your child feel more relaxed and secure, which can help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.


Address Hunger

If your child is waking up due to hunger, consider adding an extra feeding before bedtime or giving them a small snack before bed. This can help keep them full and satisfied throughout the night.

Adjust your schedule

If your day is starting too early or too late, or if your wake windows are not well adjusted, your baby can either be overtired, or not tired enough when bedtime comes. Babies need the day to last 12 to 13 hours, including naps, so if you’re putting them to bed before that, they’re probably not ready to sleep yet. Try paying attention to their sleep cues during the day, like rubbing their eyes or losing interest in activities, and adjust your wake windows and bedtime according to your baby’s age and sleep cues. 

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

Ensure that your child’s sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep. This can include using a sound machine or blackout curtains to create a dark and quiet environment that promotes sleep.

Offer Comfort and Reassurance

When your child wakes up, offer them comfort and reassurance. This can include gentle rocking, soothing music, or a comforting touch.

Encourage Self-Soothing

Encourage your child to self-soothe by teaching them techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises. This can help them feel more relaxed and comfortable, which can help them fall back to sleep.

Be Patient and Consistent

It can take time to establish healthy sleep habits, so be patient and consistent in your approach. If you are consistent with your bedtime routine and sleep strategies, your child will eventually learn to self-soothe and sleep through the night.

False start bedtimes can be challenging for parents and children alike. However, with patience, consistency, and a few sleep strategies, you can help your child establish healthy sleep habits and get the rest they need. 

It is also essential to remember that every child is different, and what works for one child may not work for another. If you are struggling with your child’s sleep, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a pediatrician or sleep consultant. By working together, you can help your child establish healthy sleep habits and get the rest they need for optimal growth and development.

For more guidance on your child’s sleep, be sure to download the Kinedu app to access expert-led courses, classes, and masterclasses on baby and toddler sleep.

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