Take time to get in touch with yourself, your feelings, your dreams, and the way you want to live a good, healthy life.
1. Admit the Importance of Sleep. Sometimes it seems as though our culture has begun to view the need for sleep as a sign of weakness. It's the new macho -- and women are buying into it big-time. But your body was genetically programmed to spend one-third of its life asleep and to sleep in specific cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, and active-brain sleep. Each cycle takes 90 minutes, and each has a specific assignment that affects thinking, memory, growth, your immune system, and even your weight. Trying to tuck anything that important into an hour here and an hour there just won't get the job done.
2. Begin the Day in Gratitude. Take 10 minutes every morning to sit down, close your eyes, and give thanks for every one of the blessings in your life. Name each one and hold it in your thoughts. The sense of gratitude you'll experience will set a serene tone for the entire day -- and reduce a day's worth of stress hormones that can trigger insomnia that night.
3. Strike a Balance. Toning down a tightly wired nervous system will encourage a balanced sleep/wake cycle, says Dr. Yan-Go. Think about tai chi, meditation, prayer, biofeedback, yoga -- any daily activity that allows you to cultivate a peaceful center and a sense of balance.
4. Play with Friends. Studies at UCLA reveal that women who have healthy friendships and interactive relationships with their children actually sleep better. The "tend-and-befriend studies," as they are called, conducted by UCLA researcher Shelly Taylor, Ph.D., indicate that when women are stressed, they tend to their children and seek out other women, possibly an ancient survival mechanism that allowed women to band together to protect themselves and their families. The studies show that when this happens, a woman's level of a biochemical called oxytocin, which blocks cortisol, the body's chief stress chemical, is increased, allowing them to rest easier than their wired male counterparts.
Steps 5-75. Use Guided Imagery. "Mind/body stuff really works in helping you get to sleep," says Cleveland therapist Belleruth Naparstek, M.S. The imagery seduces the brain into seeing and thinking about other things, while the voice tone, pacing, music, and images will persuade the ramped-up part of your nervous system that it's time to calm down. The imagery will shut down the adrenalin that's keeping you too aroused to sleep, and shoot some calming hormones into your nervous system. Slip a CD of guided imagery into your CD player, snuggle into bed, turn out the lights, and follow the imagery into sleep.
6. Invoke the Relaxation Response. Okay, so it sounds kind of boring. Maybe even useless. But the fact remains that one study after another has demonstrated that progressive muscle relaxation and meditation will block the chemical effects of stress, anxiety, and 24/7 living on your brain -- even rebalance your neurochemistry. And practiced right before bed, that often means a night of deep, restorative sleep. Here's the 4-step method pioneered by Herbert Benson, M.D., a cardiologist who heads the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston. Choose a word that has deep personal meaning for you such as "peace." Close your eyes and focus your attention on the word. Repeat it silently to yourself. When your attention wanders, as it will, gently bring it back to the word. Take a deep breath and exhale. Begin to consciously relax each of your muscles from your face to your toes. When you're finished, continue to focus on your chosen word for another 10 to 15 minutes. Then allow yourself to gently move into sleep.
7. Fight Brain Clutter. Every time you start thinking about bills or work or kids gone astray, turn your brain off and focus on something that is less stimulating, says sleep researcher Dr. Moline. One woman prays. Another meditates. A third dreams of what she's going to plant in her garden next spring. As long as it doesn't make you worry, you'll be asleep in no time.