Dealing With False Starts

Written byJennifer Schindele

September 27, 2022

baby standing and crying in a crib

You’ve offered the bedtime feed, run a warm bath, put on some cute pajamas, read some books in the rocking chair, turned on the white noise machine, and placed your baby in their crib. They seem to be ready for a good night’s sleep after the routine you’ve worked so hard on. However, thirty or forty five minutes later, you hear them wake up and start to fuss. You know It’s not a typical nighttime wake up. Those occur after your little one has been asleep for at least an hour and are usually caused by hunger if your baby is less than six months old or an inability to flow with natural circadian rhythms (in that case, a pediatric sleep consultant like me can definitely help!)

Waking up less than an hour after going to sleep at bedtime is most commonly referred to as a “false start.” Never fear, most parents have dealt with these from time to time and there are some clues as to what could be causing them! Let’s dig in and discuss.


The most common cause of false starts is physical discomfort. Teething is of course one of the most uncomfortable stages all babies go through and it’s a great idea to speak to your pediatrician to find pain management solutions and promote restful sleep. Tylenol is a great pain reliever when needed for all babies (but exclusively for those under 6 months of age) and then ibuprofen also works very well for children 6 months and older.  Teething tablets have been deemed unsafe by the FDA and teething gel often only is helpful on an extremely short term basis.  

Your baby could also be experiencing some gas or reflux issues – definitely reach out to your pediatrician if you suspect that could be the case. I cannot recommend any products, but I can say that changing when a baby eats can help reduce gastrointestinal discomfort for babies with reflux or floppy esophageal sphincter that still needs more time to stiffen and form.  

Environmental Challenges

An often overlooked cause of discomfort is being too warm. In these hot summer months, it’s important to keep your nursery between 68 and 72 degrees and dress your baby in pajamas that you would feel comfortable wearing. Some research shows that overheating can cause SIDS complications, as well, so it’s extra important to keep temperature in mind. I have some tips on dressing your baby for sleep in all temperatures here and here.


Your baby could also be feeling overtired. Despite how the word sounds, overtiredness typically causes a burst of energy due to certain stress hormones being off schedule. That burst of energy (or appearing hyper awake) will make it difficult to fall asleep. In this scenario, I recommend moving bedtime up about a half hour. 

Not Enough Sleep Pressure

Another common cause of false starts is a change in your baby’s sleep drive. All humans have natural sleep patterns influenced by 1) our circadian rhythm, which tells our bodies when to release melatonin, and 2) our homeostatic sleep drive (sleep pressure build by an increase in adenosine), which is our bodies’ natural desire to rest after time spent awake, exertion, illness, or stress. Babies’ homeostatic sleep drives develop quickly – if your baby is having trouble falling asleep at night, they may need to spend more time awake during the day. A solution to this is increasing awake windows, dropping or tweaking the existing nap schedule for older infants. 

Get Help

It can be challenging to decode the causes of false starts, but I am here to help. Please click here to schedule a free discovery call/Child Sleep Assessment! We can chat, get better acquainted and discuss possible solutions to your sleep struggles.  Better sleep is just a phone call away!

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Are you ready to get off the Crazy Train and have the whole family sleeping better? Follow the link below to schedule your complimentary consultation with Jennifer today!

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