A false start is when your baby wakes in the first part of the night, usually within an hour or so of going down at bedtime. Essentially they are treating bedtime as another nap and usually waking up after 40 minutes or so and needing re-settling.
Melatonin and evening sleep
From 10 weeks old onwards our babies start producing Melatonin, a sleepy hormone, in the evening. This usually means that the sleep in the first part of the night is more solid, and as the Melatonin wears off towards morning, wakes can become more frequent.
The other thing required for babies to sleep well at bedtime is called “sleep pressure” which is built up when babies are awake in the afternoon. The amount of awake time each baby needs before sleep depends on their age and is gradually increasing the older they get. A false start is often a sign of not enough sleep pressure - so a long nap has happened too late in the afternoon or night there’s been a nap too close to bedtime.
Another culprit for false starts is not enough daytime sleep which can lead to overtiredness. If your baby is in an overtired state going to bed in the evening there can be lots of crying or screaming, being more difficult to settle and frequent night wakes including in the first part of the evening.
Teaching independent sleep
Finally, if your baby is settling at bedtime in a parents' arms or whilst feeding and then being transferred, this can also sometimes result in a false start. As they are going to sleep in one place, then stirring in another place after their first sleep cycle and finding themselves disorientated.
So helping your baby learn to fall asleep independently at bedtime is the key to this one.