This is the scene: You’ve finally convinced your baby to fall asleep in your arms after much rocking, feeding, shushing, and pacifier-replacing. You gently transfer them to the crib, and tiptoe out of the room like a ninja. Forty-five minutes goes by, and… your baby is awake again. Gotcha, Mom and Dad!!
Many parents refer to these wakings early in your child’s evening, shortly after you’ve put them down for the night, as “false starts.” Here’s why they happen:
- Too much awake time before bed: If a baby is overtired when going down for the night, they will very often have trouble getting in, and staying in, a deep, restful sleep. They will toss and turn and be more easily-stimulated and agitated. This is often why this “false start” will occur. If this is the problem, then the easiest solution is ensuring baby is not overtired going to bed. This means educating yourself about your baby’s age-appropriate wake windows, and sticking to those. Check out our blog on “When to increase your baby’s awake time” for a list of awake times by age.
- Sleep Props: If baby needs to be fed, held, rocked, or bounced in order to fall asleep at bedtime, they will often get through just one sleep cycle (45 minutes) and then, in a light stage of sleep, trying to transition to the next sleep cycle, wake fully, unable of how to get back to sleep. I.e. If baby needs “sleep props” in order to get TO sleep, baby will very often need those same sleep props in order to get back to sleep, whenever they are in a light stage of sleep and wake up.
The second one is where sleep coaching comes in. This means teaching baby how to go into the crib awake, and fall asleep using just their own sleep skills (instead of sleep props). Note, this does NOT need to mean simply placing your baby in the crib and walking away, leaving them for huge, extended periods of time without support. Sleep coaching can (and, I’ll go ahead and argue, SHOULD) mean baby can hear your voice, feel your touch, and be picked up for a hug when they need a hug. But, there are likely to be tears involved when baby is learning something brand new. So, the important thing is having a plan for managing those tears in a way that baby gains love, support, and reassurance from a caregiver all while learning how to go to sleep on their own. It’s with that guidance that baby will ultimately learn in a positive way how to do this, and those false starts will be a thing of the past!