If you are following Sleep Consultants on any social media platforms, I’m sure you’ve heard of False Starts. But why do they happen? Is there something you can do to change this never-ending cycle of finally being able to put the baby to sleep, only to be back within 45 minutes later?
Why is this happening?
False starts are common during developmental leaps… but the thing is developmental changes are a constant for children, especially during the first years of life. I’m not a fan of labeling stages, but the most common ones I see parents reporting False Starts are when a nap is being dropped, the baby is practicing a new motor development skill, or during separation anxiety peaks because children become extra aware of separation making it more difficult to relax and transition into a deep sleep when they sense you will be gone soon.
False Starts are tricky and it is not happening just with you and your baby. I promise! It will get resolved even if you just wait for it to pass (I imagine that’s not what you want to do, especially if you are reading this post). So another reason is, because of all the developmental changes happening for your child, it could be that your little one is over or under-tired (I most often see UNDER-tiredness as the culprit and not over-tiredness), but I mention both because I want to encourage you to experiment and try different approaches, as I will explain below.
What can I do?
My recommendations are always based on how long this has been going on because, sometimes, it is way more stressful to keep experimenting with lots of changes than simply wait for the developmental leap to pass.
Things you can try when False Starts have been happening for more than 2 weeks consistently and you’ve ruled out discomfort:
- experiment with a slightly longer awake window before bedtime (15-30 minutes) for a couple of days (2-3 days). This will help you rule out timing. My clients usually report more cases of under-tired related false starts than overtired ones. However, you can always experiment with the reverse (15-30 minutes less). Keep notes as you implement the suggestions.
- work on different transferring methods: some babies need to be held for about 20 minutes before being transferred (especially those with reflux), but others will do best when transferred right away (as soon as they fall asleep). I had one of each in my house…
- And then… the other thing you can try is to have a mattress right next to your baby’s crib, and if your little one is not crying, lay down there and experiment with “I’m here. I will close my eyes now and will put my hand inside for when you are ready to fall asleep” (You may be thinking … WHAT? That’s impossible for my baby… Try this without expecting anything. If your child cries, pick them up and try again tomorrow. There’s no such thing as “giving in”. When you are not ok with what you are implementing, your little one won’t be ok either)
- Another way is to support the baby to fall asleep in a floor bed (no transferring required, unless you are rocking to sleep – which is completely fine if you are. Babies LOVE motion!)
I hope this sheds some light!
July 25th, 2021
Hi! I’m Mariana. A mom to three, published author, Early Years Consultant, and 4x Certified Sleep Specialist (having worked with thousands of families over the last 7.5 years). My background is in Child Development and Psychology, specializing in Infants and Toddlers. I’m here to support families slow down childhood and simplify parenting.