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My baby won't stay asleep at bedtime. Lets talk false starts bedtimes.

Have you heard the term …. false starts? No, not when an athlete starts the race before the official signal.

I am talking when you finally getting your little one into bed for the night, your start to exhale from your day, finish your now cold dinner, finally thinking about taking a shower where no one is demanding anything from you, maybe you even sit down to watch a little mind numbing TV..anndd...that familiar cry echoes from the other room. Uuuurrgghhhhh…


Just reading or hearing the phrase “False Start” triggers an emotional response in most parents' bodies. I remember feeling triggered that's for sure...


A check list runs through your head...

What could you want now?

But you were so tired?

Surely you're not hungry again?

Why is it always me that you want?

Please, why can't you just go to sleep?

What did I get wrong or miss?

I bet it was that nap today….blah blah


Or maybe you have never heard of this phrase before & are wondering if you should know about it? False Starts basically means any wake within approx. an hour after you put your little one to bed at night time. So it’s like they take a nap at bedtime and then either won’t go back to sleep or you end up spending time in the dark coaxing them back to sleep rough for a transfer.


In the last 15 years, everything in baby sleep seems to have inherited a “name” like it’s a diagnosed thing.

Well, currently in infant sleep space it’s known as “false start”, that’s been created in the modern baby sleep space. There is a similar term we child sleep practitioners know as “wake after sleep onset” but that’s used in infant sleep science as any wake up after bedtime, so a little more broad then what we now know as a false start i.e. within the first hour wake after bedtime.

So what is the more recent understanding of a false start, what can contribute to this “frustrating” occurrence and how can we be proactive to try to reduce it from happening.


Baby crying a false start is any wake or signalling for support

What is a false start?

A false start is any wake or signalling for support by your little one anywhere within an hour of going to bed at bedtime in the evening. Now there are usually 2 types of presentations in my experience with families.

  1. Little one goes to sleep quickly, signals for support within the hour of bedtime, quick feed/resettle and back to sleep relatively quickly.

  2. Little one goes to sleep easily at bedtime but wakes within the hour & then is having not a bar of going back to sleep. Basically treated the bedtime as a “nap” & wants to get up again.


But...WHY?? What contributes to false starts?


The list is endless and there is never really one reason. In my experience it tends to be more than one reason and very situational to the family at large.


Here are the top 5 reasons that I see:

  1. Late long nap possibly during periods of dropping naps

  2. Bedtime too early

  3. Rushed and chaotic evening/bedtime – low connection time

  4. Trouble with transitioning to next early sleep cycle/s

  5. Heightened developmental progression – especially gross motor

top 5 reasons why false starts can happen

False starts need experimenting to find your little ones sweet spot and fine tune the possible reasons for them. Many families find navigating these false starts really overwhelming and confusing, so reach out if you want more guided support that’s tailored to your unique little one’s age and stage.


Head to my 'Free Guides' page and download my free guide on 'Three Gentle Approaches to False Starts at Bedtime.'

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