Is your baby waking back up about an hour after bedtime? Here’s why.

baby bedtimes circadian rhythm false starts overtiredness short naps sleep pressure Nov 30, 2021
Baby is waking an hour after bedtime. How to fix false starts.

Is your baby treating bedtime like a nap? They go down easily, only to wake up an hour later. Sounds familiar?

If you’ve found yourself in this position, know you are not alone!  This is often referred to as a “false start.” If you’re someone who has been struggling with baby sleep, this can be a frustrating issue to figure out - though, it’s actually quite common. 

There are two main reasons for false starts: your baby is overly tired when they go down for bedtime, or your baby’s bedtime is too early.  Here’s how you can determine which one is the reason for your little one’s false starts and how you can best handle them.

Why False Starts Happen and How to Fix Them

Your baby’s sleep (both daytime and nighttime) relies heavily on their circadian rhythm, as well as their drive to sleep, often referred to as “sleep pressure” [1]. Circadian rhythm and sleep pressure work hand-in-hand, and when there is a misalignment between the two, this is when a false start (and oftentimes, split nights) can occur.  

The most common cause for this misalignment is too much awake time throughout the day or even short naps.  If your little one has been experiencing false starts, start here! 

1. Baby is Overtired  

If your baby’s naps didn’t go well throughout the day (or haven’t gone well even the past few days!), and they are experiencing false starts, it’s likely that the reason for these false starts is that they are overtired by bedtime.

Each baby, depending on their age, has a specific amount of sleep they should be getting throughout the day, as well as a specific amount of awake time [2].  Knowing your baby’s appropriate wake windows is key to avoiding an overtired baby!  (Interested in a free download that lists out wake windows by age? Click here)

When babies get too much awake time or experience short naps frequently, they can become chronically overtired, leading to poor sleep quality and frequent night wakings. This can result in what seems like a never-ending cycle of a less than well-rested baby!  

The Fix:

The best way to prevent an overtired baby at bedtime is to focus on naps throughout the day.  Do your best to get some longer naps in order to catch up on sleep, however you have to!  This may mean wearing your baby for a nap, going for a drive so your baby can sleep in the car, or having a contact nap.  Being sure that their last wake window of the day before bed isn’t too long is also just as important. The last wake window of the day can be slightly longer than those earlier in the day, but not by more than 30-minutes as a general guideline. 

Helping your baby take get these longer stretches of daytime sleep will allow for a later bedtime and more sunlight later in the day, which can assist in getting their circadian rhythm and sleep pressure back in alignment.

2. Baby’s Bedtime is too Early

This reason for false starts is often less common, but can still be the cause and is worth investigating! 

As I mentioned earlier, your baby’s circadian rhythm and drive to sleep work hand in hand to help your baby fall asleep, as well as to stay asleep [3].

If bedtime is happening too early and your baby hasn’t built up enough sleep pressure from the day yet, it’s likely they will wake shortly after they’ve gone to bed. This is most easily described using the example of Daylight Savings Time in the spring: If your baby is used to going to bed later and they’re suddenly going to bed earlier (when it’s still light out), they are going to experience more fragmented sleep. Their circadian rhythm will be promoting awake time, making it difficult for your baby to achieve a good night’s rest [4]. 

Making bedtime too early is also an easy rabbit hole to fall into when your baby is constantly overtired. If your baby has had a day full of poor naps, you’re likely going to put them to bed too early in hopes of making up for their “sleep debt.”

The Fix:

If you’ve determined that your baby’s bedtime is too early and is the reason behind them experiencing false starts, the change to their bedtime doesn’t have to be drastic! Moving their bedtime just 15-30 minutes later for a few nights can make a difference in adjusting their circadian rhythm.  

Remember, circadian rhythm works best with consistency! Putting your baby to bed at a drastically different time every night can contribute to this misalignment in their circadian rhythm [5].  Aim for keeping your baby’s bedtime within 30 minutes every night (7-7:30pm or 7:30-8pm is usually best!). 

The bottom line? Try your best to make sure that your baby is getting enough daytime sleep and that their bedtime is consistent, and not too early.  

If your baby is waking from a false start because of either being overtired or they have gone to bed too early, you may be tempted to feed them and do their bedtime routine all over again. I personally don’t recommend a “lights-on bedtime reset,” as this can just reinforce these false starts! Instead, I recommend trying your best to help them back to sleep with some gentle patting or shushing.  

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 



[1] [3]


[4] [5]

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