Being well-rested doesn't only help you look your best, it can keep your mind sharp, ward off illness and prevent weight gain. Most women in their 20s and 30s need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep—but a recent poll from the National Sleep Foundation, in Washington, DC, shows about 40 percent of them don't get it. More than 60 percent of females experience symptoms of insomnia (like being unable to fall asleep and daytime sleepiness) a few times a week. Another survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that less than a third of Americans sleep soundly all month long.
"Start making sleep a priority now. At the very least, make sure you're getting seven hours a night," says Susan Zafarlotfi, Ph.D., director of the Sleep/Wake Disorders Clinic at Hackensack University Medical Center in NJ. Sticking to a schedule is key: Hit the sack at the same time each night and wake up at roughly the same time each morning. Otherwise, you'll mess up your circadian rhythms (a.k.a. your body's "internal clock"), which can give you that groggy, hangover-like feeling. "If you do stay up late one night," says Dr. Zafarlotfi, "don't make it a pattern."
Writing in a journal a few minutes before going to bed can be a good idea. "Stress is a major cause of insomnia and sleep disturbances," Dr. Zafarlotfi explains. "By writing down what you're feeling, you're unloading stressors." If you can't fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading or knitting (avoid the computer or TV—the bright light is stimulating) until you feel sleepy, then slip between the sheets again.
Avoiding distractions is crucial, too. "Don't let pets into your bed, or even your bedroom, if they tend to wake you," says Dr. Zafarlotfi. "And if you can hear cars, sirens or similar sounds, invest in heavy blinds and a white-noise machine or earplugs." A fiancé's tossing and turning or cover-hogging can also make for less-than-ideal sleep conditions. Dr. Zafarlotfi's solution: "Spend some wedding-gift money on a new mattress. If you're in a full-sized bed, upgrade to at least a queen-sized. If you're able, buy a memory-foam mattress so you won't feel him moving."
"The glow from cell phones, televisions and computers stimulates your brain, keeping your circadian rhythms ( internal clock) from winding down," says Carol Ash, D.O., medical director of the Sleep for Life program at Somerset Medical Center in Hillsborough, NJ. "It's even worse than, say, an overhead light, because in addition to the light itself, these gadgets require you to do tasks that engage your mind. That causes chemical changes that tell your brain it's not time for bed."(Solution: Turn off the tube and log off tech tools at least an hour before you want to hit the sack, advises Dr. Ash.
"If you hate going into your bedroom at night because of the way it looks, you're going to start associating those negative feelings with sleep itself," says Dr. Ash. "You're likely to put off bedtime as long as possible, and to not sleep well when you do turn in for the night."( Take the time and money to make your bedroom a welcoming haven. A University of Arizona study found a correlation between fats and sleep apnea, a disorder that can rob the body of oxygen. "Scientists are still establishing the link, but we do know that eating fatty foods at dinner can cause stomach upset that affects sleep quality," says Dr. Ash. Make a point of getting no more than 30 percent of your total calories at dinner from fat. If you're going to splurge on fries or other foods containing high amounts of fat, try to do so at lunch.
If you are having trouble catching enough shut-eye, you may be tempted to ask your doctor for a little help. The popularity of prescription sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta has tripled in the past five years—but Dr. Zafarlotfi cautions that they shouldn't be your first line of defense, because of the potential to become dependent on them. She says taking a Tylenol PM or other OTC sleep aid is fine once in a while-although long-term overuse can lead to liver damage—but expect to be far from peppy the next day. (Don't pop one the night before your nuptials!) Your best bet for getting to the bottom of a persistent sleep problem, she says: "See your primary physician or a sleep specialist so you can start getting the slumber you need."