As adults, many of us know the feeling of waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, but did you know that babies experience this too? The term “false start sleep” refers to those frustrating times when your little one is resting soundly for about 30-60 minutes before awakening suddenly for no apparent reason. Fortunately, there’s usually an explanation for that false start which means there’s probably a fix for it too.

Newborns and infants will occasionally rouse themselves from sleep within the first hour of going down for the night, appearing to be alert and energized as if bedtime was just a quick catnap. If you’ve been scratching your head in confusion at this phenomenon, you’re not alone! Unless you’re a certified pediatric sleep expert, knowing how to solve false start baby sleep probably isn’t on your radar (that’s where I come in!).

Understanding what’s causing your child to wake prematurely gives you the information necessary to address the problem and prevent it from happening again so that everyone can let go of their false start worries and get a good night’s rest. 

What Causes False Starts?

Babies who wake after an hour or less of sleep may do so for various reasons, but false starts are temporary and manageable. It could be as simple as adding one more feeding to their schedule or as complex as reconfiguring their daytime napping hours—trial and error is often how we grapple with challenges as parents! Either way, your struggle with false starts doesn’t have to continue. Here are a few common triggers and what to do about them.

General Sleep Imbalances 

A sleep-deprived baby is not guaranteed to pass out and stay snoozing through the night, just as a well-rested baby will probably fuss in the evenings. Inconsistencies in their routine are another source of false start baby sleep, a testament to why building a routine around your baby’s bedtime is so important.

As they grow, babies gain new skills and more mobility, which leads to exploratory gestures such as rolling over or using their limbs freely. This inevitably causes some sleep disturbances, though your baby will soon learn how to regulate themselves and return to less fitful rest. Imbalanced sleep is unavoidable while babies grow because their needs change with that growth. Sleep regression can occur as they reach certain milestones, but with consistency and patience, these imbalances become a thing of the past.

Hunger or Discomfort

Similarly, a hungry or even freshly fed baby may not sleep well. Newborns have small stomachs and need to feed frequently, making hunger a major reason for premature waking. Feeding a baby too close to bedtime is equally problematic since those tiny stomachs are easily upset without a pause for proper digestion.

A good rule of thumb is to administer their last feeding of the day about 45 minutes before taking them to bed so that your baby isn’t going to sleep with a tummy that’s too empty or too full. 

Babies could also wake if they’re uncomfortable due to a wet diaper, tight clothing, gas, or other discomfort. If they’re under four months old without a swaddle, or if they’re over that threshold and still swaddled, your swaddling routine (or lack thereof) might be to blame for false starts. Acid reflux, allergies, or infections can affect a baby’s sleep, as can teething, so be mindful of the stage your baby is in and consider possible connections to physical growth.

Dependent Sleep Habits

The development of sleep associations is a normal yet difficult obstacle for babies to overcome if they’re too dependent on them to sleep well. These attachments can include needing a pacifier, rocking, or nursing in order to sleep. An especially tough association to break is co-sleeping. If your little one depends on one of these habits, they’ll probably be upset if they’re not around. 

The same tricks for bottle weaning apply to breaking dependent sleep habits. Replacing the pacifier with a blanket or stuffed animal keeps the sense of object comfort intact, while a gradual reduction in rocking or nursing before bed allows your little one to adjust at a slower pace. That being said, you can also go cold turkey and see if it works! Just remember that nothing happens overnight, and it will take some time to figure out the best approach. 

Environmental Factors 

Our sleep environment plays a crucial role in how well we recharge at any age. Factors such as room temperature, noise, and light can negatively impact sleep, so try to ensure a comfortable, quiet, and dim environment for your baby to sleep in to avoid overstimulation. Create a calm and soothing bedtime routine to signal that it’s time to rest. This way, your baby won’t startle awake in that first hour due to feeling too hot or cold, hearing a loud noise, or being disturbed by bright lights.

It might seem obvious, but a different environment, such as a hotel room or a friend’s house, may distract a sensitive baby who’s gotten used to a specific routine at home. It may take longer for them to fall asleep and stay asleep in these new places. You can recreate their routine to the best of your ability by bringing along the same blankets, sound machines, and other (non-dependent!) comforts so that the transition is smoother for everyone.

Your Best Solution? Consult a Sleep Expert!

No matter what the reason is behind your infant’s sleep disruptions, consulting with an expert in this field promises real solutions. As a certified pediatric sleep expert, I’m here to help identify the underlying issues preventing your family from getting a good night’s sleep and provide guidance on establishing healthy sleep habits for your little one going forward. 

If you’re close to deciding it’s impossible to find a happy medium with your baby’s bedtime routine, don’t give up yet! You’re probably not alone, and you may just need an effective sleep coach in your corner with a solid plan tailored to your unique situation. False start baby sleep is one phase of many you’ll encounter as a new parent, but your plate is full enough—let me show you how valuable quality rest truly is by optimizing your household’s sleep today.

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

These tips are simple, easy to implement, and created to help your baby slowly step into a healthy, secure relationship with sleep!

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