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False Start Bedtimes

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Article by:

Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

awake baby looking up at parent after false start bedtime

Are you struggling with false start bedtimes? This is when you put your baby to sleep for bedtime and then 30 or 45 minutes later...surprise, “I’m awake! I’m all done sleeping.” If you’ve seen this, you know it can be really tough and so frustrating. 

Let’s talk through 5 common causes of false starts and what we can do about them:

1. Your baby is younger than 3-4 months and simply needs a later bedtime.

At this age, false starts can be common. For babies who have a bedtime of 7:00-8:00 pm, they might even be treating that bedtime like a nap. This is developmentally normal. Some babies at this age just need a later bedtime. 

So, what do you do? For now, allow a little nap in the early evening, have some awake time, and then aim for an 8:00-10:00 pm bedtime. 

Keep in mind that as babies get closer to 5 months, I do encourage a bedtime between 7:00-8:00 pm. This later bedtime is just for babies under 5 months.

2. Wake windows need adjusting.

Wake windows are so important in helping your baby fall asleep easily and stay asleep. Why? Often, overtired babies wake frequently in the night. On the flip side, babies who aren’t tired enough can also have false start bedtimes. They are tired enough to fall asleep but not enough to stay asleep. If it feels like your baby is sleeping all day and awake all night, check out my blog on Day-Night Confusion.

Be sure to examine your wake window before bedtime very carefully. Here’s an easy way to check on that last wake window.

how much awake time before bedtime graphic

3. The day is starting too late.

If you are aiming for a 7:00-8:00 pm bedtime and your day started after 8:00 am, your baby may not be ready for night sleep. Most little ones need daytime to last about 12-13 hours (including naps).

If this is you, try waking your baby just a little earlier. That earlier morning will give your baby more active awake time and help set the stage for restful night sleep.

4. Your baby is falling asleep during the bedtime feeding.

A good feeding before bed is an important part of getting in those much-needed daytime calories. But, can I tell you a secret? Sometimes that feeding needs a little adjusting.  

Falling asleep during that bedtime feeding can cause some babies to struggle to get back to sleep when they attempt to transition to a new sleep cycle. 

Do your best to keep your baby awake during that feeding. Maybe even try shifting that feeding earlier in the routine and see if that helps. If they do fall asleep, try to break up eating and sleeping by adding one activity (diaper change, put on jammies, etc.) in between.

5. Baby is going into the crib very drowsy or completely asleep.

What did your little one look like when you placed him in the crib? Was your baby really drowsy or completely asleep? Here is what I want you to know: About every 40-50 minutes, babies transition to a new sleep cycle. If they are really drowsy or asleep going into the crib, they come to the top of sleep cycle and think “WAIT! This isn’t where I was when I fell asleep. I don’t know how to get back to sleep.” 

Falling asleep independently can be really helpful for these false start bedtimes. If you’re struggling with this, all of my classes teach you how to help your baby fall asleep independently at bedtime.

Want to hear me talk about all of this? Watch this video:

Sleep Basics

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baby standing in crib for safe sleep

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