False Starts – What are they and why do they happen?

False starts: what are they and why do they happen?

As a pediatric sleep consultant, I often hear from exhausted parents who are struggling with one common sleep issue in their infants: False starts.

These are those frustrating moments when your baby wakes up after just one sleep cycle at night, leaving you feeling like you’ve barely had a chance to relax! Don’t worry, there are reasons behind these false starts, and effective strategies to help your baby sleep more soundly through the night. When we refer to “false starts,” we’re talking about those awakenings that occur after a baby completes one sleep cycle, which typically lasts around 45 minutes to an hour. In an ideal world, your baby would smoothly transition from one sleep cycle to the next without waking up. However, several factors can disrupt this process, causing your little one to stir or fully awaken.

Why Do False Starts Happen?

  • Being over tired: If your baby has had too late of a bedtime or failed naps throughout the day, you will likely see them waking 45 minutes after being put down. They’ll usually be crying and upset, and wake frequently throughout the night/early in the morning
  • Being under tired: if your baby has not built up enough sleep debt from end of nap to bed time, they may have a false start, waking after one sleep cycle ready to get up and play!
  • Incomplete Sleep Cycle Transition: Newborns and young infants have shorter sleep cycles compared to adults. As they grow and their sleep matures, they become better at transitioning seamlessly from one cycle to the next. False starts often occur when this transition is incomplete, causing your baby to briefly wake up.
  • Developmental Changes: Babies go through rapid developmental changes in their first year of life. These changes can disrupt sleep patterns, including the ability to stay asleep through sleep cycles.
  • Hunger: If your baby is going through a growth spurt or hasn’t eaten enough during the day, hunger can be a common cause of false starts. Their tiny stomachs may need to be refueled in attempts to bulk up to get through the night.
  • Sleep Associations: Babies who have developed specific sleep associations, such as being rocked to sleep or using pacifiers, may wake up when these associations change or are no longer present during sleep cycles.
  • Environment and Comfort: Factors like temperature changes, noise, or discomfort due to wet diapers or clothing can rouse your baby from sleep.

Now that we understand the reasons behind false starts, let’s explore practical strategies to help your baby sleep more soundly through the night:

  • Consistent Bedtime Routine: Establish a calming bedtime routine that signals to your baby that it’s time to sleep. Activities like a warm bath, gentle lullabies, and a bedtime story can create a soothing environment. Be sure to keep wake windows consistent to ensure they have the proper amount of awake time between end of nap to bed time.
  • Create the perfect room environment: White noise machines can help drown out background sounds and create a consistent sleep environment for your baby. Make the sleep environment as dark as possible during bedtime. Use blackout curtains to minimize disruptions from external light sources.
  • Swaddle Safely: Swaddling can help reduce the chances of false starts by preventing the startle reflex from waking your baby. Ensure you swaddle safely and follow recommended guidelines.
  • Sleep Training: If your baby relies on specific sleep associations, work on gradually transitioning them to self-soothing techniques. This can involve reducing dependency on pacifiers or rocking to sleep.
  • Comfortable Sleep Environment: Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and dress your baby appropriately for sleep. Check for wet diapers or tight clothing that might cause discomfort.
  • Feeding Schedule: Ensure your baby is adequately fed during the day, especially before bedtime. Babies who are full tend to sleep more soundly.
  • Be Patient: Understand that it may take some time for your baby to develop the ability to sleep through sleep cycles consistently. Be patient and consistent in your approach.
  • Seek Professional Help: If false starts persist despite your efforts, you can always contact us for personalized guidance!

False starts in babies are a common challenge in the early months of parenthood, but they don’t have to lead to sleepless nights. By understanding the underlying causes and implementing these strategies, you can help your baby sleep more soundly and enjoy more peaceful nights. Remember, every baby is unique, so be flexible in your approach, and don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance if needed. Restful nights are within reach for both you and your little one!

Pediatric sleep consultant Jessica Hallauer – Author

Jessica is a newborn care specialist and sleep consultant for infants and toddlers.  If you are looking for further support, reach out to Jessica today by booking a free discovery call.

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