False Starts: Baby Waking Up 30-45 Minutes After Bedtime

A Tired Mother with Upset Baby Suffering with Post Natal Depression.

Most likely, at some time or another, you have experienced a “false start” with your baby.  A false start is when you put baby down for the night, they close their eyes, drift off to sleep, then wake up again 30-45 minutes later.  

False starts are different than regular “nighttime wake ups”, which occur after baby has been asleep for at least an hour or so.  Nighttime wake ups are typically the result of either hunger or baby’s inability to connect their sleep cycles together.  If your baby is six months or older and had a full feed before bed, hunger most likely is not the culprit, but most likely due to the fact that baby does not know how to string together their sleep cycles due to the use of an external sleep prop to fall asleep.

It’s important to distinguish the difference between a false start and nighttime wake up because they are caused by different things and therefore have different solutions.

The solution to false starts can be solved rather easily.  The first step, as with any problem, is to identify the cause, and when it comes to false starts, here are the three most common suspects:

1. Discomfort

If your baby is uncomfortable, there’s a good chance they won’t sleep well, as is the case with anybody of any age. Teething, gas, reflux, or even environmental factors such as temperature; just being too warm or too cool, can all cause baby to wake up quickly after they first manage to settle. You can likely find remedies, temporary or permanent, to the first three by talking to your pediatrician. Sometimes time can also solve the first three.  As for the temperature issue, I have a useful guide to dressing your baby appropriately for different temperature nurseries that I’d be happy  to share with you. Just send me an email and I’ll send it your way, free of charge.

2. Lack of Sleep Pressure

There are two things that help us fall asleep. One is our circadian rhythm, which signals our brain to start producing melatonin when it gets dark, and homeostatic sleep drive, which is the body’s natural urge to sleep as we spend time awake, exert ourselves physically, heal from sickness or injury, or experience exciting or stressful situations.

Given how quickly babies develop, babies’ homeostatic sleep drive builds up much quicker than it does in the average adult. (A big part of the reason they need so much daytime sleep.) But as they get older, that pressure accumulation starts to slow down, and requires more time awake between naps to build up to the point where they can fall asleep, and stay asleep, at bedtime. If your baby takes a long time to fall asleep when you first put them down for the night, and seems active and happy during that time, low sleep pressure could likely be the cause, and it may be time to either drop a nap or reschedule their naps in order to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bed.  Simply put, they need more awake time from the last nap of the day to bedtime to build up the sleep pressure.

3. Overtiredness

This is where things can get a little tricky, because overtiredness in babies looks different than adults.  Overtiredness causes cortisol secretion at the time when we want it the least, and actually causes baby to get quite energetic, making it difficult for them to settle down to fall asleep. In this case, you might want to move bedtime up by 20-30 minutes.

These are the same symptoms that were in scenario #2, except instead of baby not getting enough awake time before bed, they’ve actually had too much. Two completely opposite causes resulting in very similar symptoms, but requiring opposite solutions, which makes it difficult to know which course of action to take to remedy the situation.

So, how do you know which scenario you’re dealing with and implement the right fix? Well, I happen to have a great little scheduling table that I’d be happy to share with you as well, (once again, just send me an email) or you could try the trial and error approach. If you do though, I strongly suggest you start with moving bedtime up. Overtiredness is a vicious cycle once it takes hold. Baby doesn’t sleep well which results in short catnaps the next day, which leads to bad sleep at night, and on and on it goes. It’s much safer to move bedtime earlier and see if that solves the problem.

Hopefully one of these solutions takes care of your little one’s false starts, but if the problem persists, it might be time to consider some one-on-one help from a pediatric sleep coach, and it just so happens, I know a great one. 🙂 

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