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I Want My Toddler to Sleep Through the Night

Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her home consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

Dear Heather,

I have a 17-month-old that is very inconsistent with night sleep and naps. He goes to bed awake and wakes up at least once every night—but usually more. I am still nursing and that is usually how he goes back to sleep.

At night, he sleeps anywhere from 9 to12 hours, and his naps are typically an hour long. Any suggestions on how to make his sleep times more consistent...and fewer wake ups?

Thanks!

Joanne Tomasello via Facebook

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Dear Joanne,

The good news: You're 90 percent there! You're already practicing the No. 1 most important sleep habit, which is putting your child into bed awake. When kids do this, they feel confident and in charge of their own "stuff" and find their special ways to self soothe in their cozy beds. The other pivotal habit is keeping a regular bedtime (at this age, 7 p.m. is a good one), because the internal clock likes regularity and the more consistent you are with bedtime, the more drowsy your child becomes as that time approaches. Here's an example of a good schedule for a 17-month-old:

Wake up time 6 a.m.

Naptime 11:30 a.m. (If napping twice, then 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.)

Bedtime 7 p.m. (If napping twice, 7:30 p.m.)

In terms of nursing at night, your 17-month-old doesn't really need to eat during the night. But he may legitimately be hungry, because his body is used to it. And while waking up to feed once per night isn't much of an interruption in sleep for either of you, it does tend to regress to multiple times, which breaks up your sleep and his.

That means you'd need to wean the feeding very gradually. Go into his room when he wakes for that feeding and feed him slightly less every night (you'll find our specific weaning guidelines in "The Happy Sleeper," chapter 4). The key is to put him back in his crib awake, just like you did at bedtime. And just like at bedtime, remember he's got all his self-soothing abilities to fall asleep—he can do it.

RELATED: What Parents Should Do For Night Terrors

Once you're down to about one minute of nursing, you can stop the feeding all together. If he has trouble going to the usual self-soothing tricks he knows so well from your great bedtime practices, the book also walks you through how to respond and let him know you're there, but not take back over the role of soothing (nursing to sleep) in the night. He's capable, and you're all ready for a full night of much-needed sleep, so you can be available and enjoy each other to the fullest during the day.

Sleep happy,

Heather

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Image via Twenty20/StephHerington

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