1. Create a transition routine. This is something you do every night before bed. It could be as simple as letting the cat out, turning out the lights, turning down the heat, washing your face, and brushing your teeth. Or it could be a series of yoga or meditation exercises. Regardless, it should be consistent to the point that you do it without even thinking about it. As you begin to move into your "nightly routine," your mind will get the signal that it's time to chill out and tune down, dialing down stress hormones and physiologically preparing you for sleep.
2. Figure out your body cycle. Ever find that you get really sleepy at 10 p.m., that the sleepiness passes, and that by the time the late news comes on, you're wide-awake? Some experts believe sleepiness comes in cycles. Push past a period of sleepiness and you likely won't be able to fall asleep very easily for a while. If you've noticed these kinds of rhythms in your own body clock, use them to your advantage. When sleepiness comes, get to bed. Otherwise, it might be a long time until you are ready to fall asleep again.
3. Sprinkle just-washed sheets and pillowcases with lavender water and iron them before making up your bed. The scent is scientifically proven to promote relaxation, and the repetition and mindlessness of ironing will soothe you. Or, instead of ironing your sheets, do the next best thing: Put lavender water in a perfume atomizer and spray above your bed just before climbing in.
4. Hide your clock under your bed or on the bottom shelf of your night stand, where its glow won't disturb you. That way, if you do wake in the middle of the night or have problems sleeping, you won't fret over how late it is and how much sleep you're missing.
5. Switch your pillow. If you're constantly pounding it, turning it over and upside down, the poor pillow deserves a break. Find a fresh new pillow from the linen closet, put a sweet-smelling case on it, and try again.
6. Choose the right pillow. One Swedish study found that neck pillows, which resemble a rectangle with a depression in the middle, can actually enhance the quality of your sleep as well as reduce neck pain. The ideal neck pillow should be soft and not too high, should provide neck support, and should be allergy tested and washable, researchers found.
7. Switch to heavier curtains over the windows, and use them. Even the barely noticeable ambient light from streetlights, a full moon, or your neighbor's house can interfere with the circadian rhythm changes you need to fall asleep.
8. Clean your bedroom and paint it a soothing sage green. Or some other soothing color. First, the more clutter in your bedroom, the more distractions in the way of a good night's sleep. The smooth, clean surfaces act as a balm to your brain, helping to smooth out your own worries and mental to-do lists. The soothing color provides a visual reminder of sleep, relaxing you as you lie in bed reading or preparing for sleep.
9. Move your bed away from any outside walls. This will help cut down on noise, which a Spanish study found could be a significant factor in insomnia. If the noise is still bothering you, try a white noise machine, or just turn on a floor fan.
10. Tuck a hot-water bottle between your feet or wear a pair of ski socks to bed. The science is a little complicated, but warm feet help your body's internal temperature get to the optimal level for sleep. Essentially, you sleep best when your core temperature drops. By warming your feet, you make sure blood flows well through your legs, allowing your trunk to cool.
11. Kick your dog or cat out of your bedroom. A 2002 research study found that one in five pet owners sleep with their pets (and we're not talking goldfish here). The study also found that dogs and cats created one of the biggest impediments to a good night's sleep since the discovery of caffeine. One reason? The study found that 21 percent of the dogs and 7 percent of the cats snored!