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Why Is My Child Waking Up After Twenty Minutes?

Have you experienced this? And are you pulling your hair out at bedtime? Does it seem like everything is going according to plan at bedtime and then BAM, twenty minutes after you put them down, their eyes pop open and and you hear, “Mommy! Mommy!”

This is known as a false start! 

A false start is not the same as the usual nighttime wake-up. These are two different situations which therefore have separate  solutions. The difference is that with a nighttime wakeup, the baby has been asleep for at least an hour or so. Usually, nighttime wake ups are the result of hunger, the need for a diaper change, or a baby’s inability to string their sleep cycles together.

Your child isn’t waking up from hunger if your baby is over 6 months old and ate well before bed. Whereas, the struggle for your child to connect sleep cycles together is another situation and often needs an expert’s help. This is a great reason to hire a pediatric sleep coach to help your baby sleep soundly.

If it’s not hunger and your child is waking up 20-30 minutes into the night, what can you do? What can you do to stop pulling out your hair with frustration?

False starts are actually easily remedied once you identify the cause. Below, we’ll discuss the three most common causes.

1. Discomfort

Just like adults, babies don’t sleep well when they’re uncomfortable. Just think about the nights you’ve tried to fall asleep on a hot summer night without the cool breeze of a fan or air conditioner. For a child, on top of temperature, teething, gas, can all cause your baby to wake up quickly after they first manage to settle in for the night.

Severe reflux and gas issues may need the help of a pediatrician. For teething, If the pain is bad and your little one just can’t sleep, I suggest giving them a little medicine before their nighttime feed. (Please, check with your medical provider first). If you’re not sure what to do, a chat with your pediatrician can help you to work out teething, gas, and reflux issues.

Temperature issues are easily remedied by dressing your child appropriately. If you need help with that, I have a chart I can send you. All you have to do is ask.

2. Lack of Pressure

There are two factors that help your child fall asleep. One, the circadian rhythm, signals your brain to produce melatonin when it gets dark. Homeostatic sleep drive is the second. Homeostatic sleep drive is the body’s natural urge to sleep after physical exertion, sickness or injury, stress or excitement, and simply after a certain amount of time being awake.

A baby’s homeostatic sleep drive builds up much faster than it would in the average adult, which is a part of the reason they take naps. However, as they get older, that pressure accumulation slows down, and they need more time between naps to build up to the point that they stay asleep at bedtime.

If you’re finding that your child takes a long time to fall asleep when you put them down for the night – and they’re happy and active – low sleep pressure could be the culprit. The easiest way to figure this out is to either eliminate a nap or reschedule them to allow that pressure to build up appropriately before bedtime.

3. Overtiredness

This is where things get a little bit more challenging. Overtiredness doesn’t just appear as a more intense version of regular tiredness. Being overtired causes a cortisol secretion at the time you want it the least, and it makes babies more energetic (some call this a “second wind”) and therefore they have more difficulty sleeping. If you suspect this is the case, moving bedtime up by 20-30 minutes should solve the problem.

With overtiredness, you’re dealing with the same symptoms as you are with low pressure, except instead of the baby not being awake long enough, they’ve been awake too long. Very similar symptoms, opposite solutions.

So how do you know which situation you’re dealing with so that you can fix it? I do have a scheduling table.  A sleep coach can help you identify which is causing the false start. 

If you choose to try to identify it yourself, I suggest you start by moving bedtime up. Overtiredness is a vicious cycle. Your baby doesn’t sleep well, which results in being more tired and needing more naps the next day. That of course leads to bad sleep at night and the cycle continues. Moving bedtime a little earlier is a less frustrating solution and the safer bet!

Still not sure what to do? Or have you tried it all and you still aren’t getting the sleep that your family craves? We’d love to help you figure out the root cause of your baby’s false starts and help them to sleep soundly. Schedule your free “let’s get acquainted” call, and let’s work together to eliminate the issues keeping you both awake at night.

Contact Tender Transitions

If you have any questions about these guidelines and why they are important for your family, please reach out.

Or if you’re struggling with getting a full night’s sleep and are worried about moving your child into their own room, we can help. We’ve worked with hundreds of families to create a smooth transition. A transition to a new room or the restorative transition of teaching your child to become independent sleepers. Book your free call today!

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