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False Starts

I’m guessing we all know what I’m referring to here when I say, ‘False Start.’ However, just in case you’ve been exceptionally lucky and not experienced one, let’s define it before we go any further, so we are all on the same page.

Have you ever put your little one down for the night, they close their little eyes and nod off, but then wake up about 20-30 minutes later? That specific situation is what we refer to as a ‘false start.’

It’s important to distinguish between a ‘false start’ and a regular ‘night waking’ because they are caused by different things and therefore have different solutions. A typical ‘night waking’ occurs after baby’s been asleep for at least an hour or so.

Night wakings are typically caused by either hunger or baby’s inability to string their sleep cycles together. If baby is over six months old, is a healthy weight and had a full feed before bed, then hunger is unlikely to be the culprit and it’s more likely that they’re unable to string their sleep cycles together. This is another conversation altogether and a great reason to hire a child sleep coach!

However, false starts are a different scenario and can be solved relatively easily. The first step is to identify the cause. Here are the three typical suspects:

1. Discomfort

Discomfort will wake your baby in the middle of their sleep cycle. Just like anybody of any age, there’s a good chance baby won’t settle well if they’re uncomfortable. I’m talking teething, gas, reflux, or even just been too cool or too warm. If you think bub is struggling with any of the first three, talk to your pediatrician about some remedies. As for the temperature issue, I have a handy guide to dressing your baby appropriately for different environments that I’d be delighted to share with you. Just fire me an email and I’ll send it your way, free of charge.

2. Lack of Pressure

There are two main things that help us fall asleep.

One is our circadian rhythm which signals to our brain to produce melatonin as the sun goes down. The other is our homeostatic sleep drive, which is our bodies natural urge to sleep as we spend time awake, exert ourselves during the day, heal from sickness or injury or experience stressful or exciting situations. Basically, we refer to this as ‘sleep pressure’ that builds throughout the day.

Babies are developing rapidly, and their homeostatic sleep drive builds up much quicker than it does in the average adult. Therefore, babies need to take naps, to release some of this ‘sleep pressure’ during the day.

However, as babies get older, that pressure build up starts to slow down and babies can withstand more time awake and do not need to release as much sleep pressure during the day.

If you find that your baby takes a long time to fall asleep when you first put them down at bedtime, and they seem generally happy and active during that time, low sleep pressure could likely be the cause. It may be time to either drop a nap or reschedule their naps, offering baby more awake time, to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bed.

3. Overtiredness

Overtiredness is sleep’s worst enemy. Overtiredness causes cortisol secretion at the time we want it the least. It actually causes baby to become quite energetic, making it difficult for them to get to sleep. Babies struggle to settle themselves when they are overtired, and it often results in hysterical crying. In this case, you want to move bedtime up by 30 minutes or so.

So, you’ve probably realised that this is the opposite of the above scenario. In the earlier scenario we discussed baby not getting enough awake time before bed and in this case, we are considering baby getting too much. Two completely different causes resulting in very similar symptoms but requiring opposite solutions.

It makes it hard to know which course of action to take to fix the situation.

This is where following ‘awake windows by age’ comes in handy. Again, I have a guide I would be more than happy to share with you, just sent me an email.

You could also just proceed with trial and error. If you do this though I strongly suggest you move bedtime earlier and err on the side of caution. Overtiredness is a vicious cycle once it takes hold. Baby doesn’t sleep well overnight, which results in short naps the next day, which leads to another bad night and repeat. It’s a safer option to go with an earlier bedtime first and see if that solves the problem.

Hopefully one of these solutions solves your little one’s false starts, but if the problem continues, it might be time to consider some one-on-one help from a child sleep coach, and it just so happens, I know a great one 😊

Contact our sleep consultant today to book your free introductory consultation.


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