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Sleep hygiene checklist: 10 natural sleep aids

Take a look at the zombies shuffling in line at the coffee shop every morning of the week, and you’ll already know what research confirms: Americans have a serious sleep problem. Thirty-five percent of all American adults don’t get enough sleep, and 68 percent of high school students are skipping out on sleep[*]. More than a 150 million American adults aren’t getting the sleep they need on a regular basis. Shop All

That figure helps explain why Americans spend billions on sleep aids and remedies annually. In one Consumer Reports survey, 41 percent of people who reported using over-the-counter sleep medications had been taking them for a year or more, while 48 percent of this group admitted to using these sleeping pills multiple times a week[*].

That’s concerning because a variety of sleep aids have been shown to be addictive or habit-forming, and cause unpleasant side effects including burning or tingling in the extremities, digestive upset, dizziness, headaches, parasomnias (e.g. sleepwalking or sleep eating), heartburn, mental fogginess, physical weakness, erratic behavior, and, ironically, daytime drowsiness.

Those side effects probably sound even less appealing than tossing and turning all night. But that brings us back to square one: If you’re having trouble sleeping, how can you catch some ZZZs without harming your health?

Of course, if you’ve been struggling to get a good night’s sleep, the first thing to do is talk to your healthcare practitioner. You should not try any type of sleep aid without working directly with your doctor to find the best solution for you.

My goal with this article is to highlight some holistic strategies that help support sleep, so you can be informed before visiting your doctor, and then together make the best decision for you.

But first, let’s talk about what happens when you’re not sleeping enough or not getting restful sleep.

The consequences of not sleeping well

Adults should get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night[*]. I personally need 7.5 hours, plus a 15–20 minute mid-day nap.

Do you get at least seven hours of sleep, but don’t feel rested, or wake up in the middle of the night frequently? See a doctor to make sure you don’t have a medical condition or sleep disorders that could be causing poor sleep. I’ve seen a lot of people in such high stress that even if they sleep seven or more hours, they wake up tired the next day because the quality of sleep is not there.

This is what high-quality sleep looks like:

  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less

  • Sleeping at least 85 percent of the time you’re in bed

  • Waking up no more than once per night

  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially going to sleep[*]

Of course, when you don’t get that deep sleep during the night you’ll have daytime sleepiness and fatigue[*]. Sleep deprivation (lack of sleep) can also cause:

  • More irritable moods

  • Inability to think clearly

  • Reduced reaction time

  • Increased anxiety

  • Declined overall health

  • Risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes

  • Car accidents[*]

That’s the bad news. The good news is there are possible solutions.

Natural remedies for sleep: your sleep hygiene checklist

Whether you struggle with restlessness or actually suffer from insomnia, there are proven, natural strategies to help improve your sleep habits.

1. Establish a regular routine

Pretty much all authorities on the topic of sleep affirm the value of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Tempting as it may be to stay out late and sleep in even later on the weekends, this can actually mess with your sleep schedule for the rest of the week. As much as possible, try to stick to a consistent schedule so your body naturally starts to gravitate toward sleep at an appropriate time each evening.

2. Create a bedtime ritual

Speaking of routines: It’s a good idea to create a relaxing bedtime ritual that helps you wind down before hitting the sheets. This could include reading a book, taking a bath, listening to soothing music, doing deep breathing exercises, sniffing some aromatherapeutic scents, or another relaxing pastime of your choosing. The key is to incorporate activities that help you wind down before bed so your body and mind are primed for sleep. 

3. Make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet

When it comes to sleep, setting matters. While there are a lucky few among us who have the knack of falling asleep anywhere and anytime, they’re probably not reading this blog post. For the rest of us mortals, it’s a good idea to set the stage for sleep by:

Closing the curtains (and investing in blackout shades if bright lights still get in)

Doing everything in your power to make the bedroom a quiet space, even if that means purchasing earplugs or a white noise machine to avoid hearing your noisy night owl of a neighbor

Turning down the thermostat so the bedroom is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit

Removing electronics from the bedroom so you aren’t tempted to use light-emitting devices in bed

4. Enlist the power of mushrooms

People have utilized functional mushrooms for thousands of years. Functional mushrooms are packed with nutrients, and have been shown to support stress reduction. Reishi deserves special accolades here: The so-called “queen of the mushrooms” may induce a sense of calm that facilitates falling asleep and improves sleep quality overall[*]. (For best results, take reishi within a few hours of heading to bed.) As an adaptogen, Reishi can also help your body to manage stress and find a balance. 

5. Don’t smoke

If at all possible, quit smoking. You already know it’s bad for your physical health, but it’s also bad for your sleep. Smokers are especially prone to insomnia for two reasons: First, nicotine is a stimulant. Second, smokers’ bodies experience nicotine withdrawal while they’re lying in bed, thereby causing them to toss and turn instead of getting the amount of deep sleep they need.

6. Limit your caffeine consumption

Limit your caffeine consumption, and try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening. Stimulants and the desire for sleep do not mix well. Preliminary research suggests that just a double shot of espresso may disrupt your circadian rhythm[*].

If you are going to use caffeine, try to use it only in the morning and reduce the amount. (Fun fact: instant Mushroom Coffee With Lion’s Mane has half the caffeine a regular cup of coffee does). 

7. Move every day 

Enjoy some form of exercise every day (or as many days as you can manage). This helps tire out your body and reduce stress, which can make you more likely to fall asleep. Moderate aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality[*]. 

The jury’s out on evening exercise. Some people find this energizes them and it takes them longer to go to sleep, while others find the exact opposite. So figure out what works best for your body in terms of time of day to move. 

8. Skip the nightcap

Try to avoid drinking alcohol before bed, as booze has a disruptive impact on sleep cycles. Drinking alcohol before bed may help you fall asleep quickly, but often will wake you up earlier. It also blocks the most restorative type of sleep: REM sleep[*]. Even though it might be tempting to reach for a nightcap while you’re winding down for bed, your body is probably better off if you skip it. Reach instead for that 3.5 oz Mushroom Hot Cacao With Reishi. 

9. Take steps to reduce stress

Stress zaps ZZZs like nobody’s business. But you probably don’t need me to tell you that: Who among us hasn’t spent at least one night of their life lying awake consumed by thoughts of your job? This helps explain why relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are so good for sleep.

Another good option for reducing stress before bed? Write in a journal. Many people find that writing out your worries or anxieties helps get them out of your mind, so they don’t consume you as soon as your head hits the pillow.  

10. Spend time outside

Hanging out in the great outdoors exposes us to natural light, which stimulates your body to maintain a healthy melatonin balance. The simple takeaway is that melatonin balance is essential for triggering nighttime sleep responses. The more time you spend outside, the more likely your body will be able to maintain a regular sleep-wake pattern.

Sweet Dreams

Armed with a basic understanding of how to create better sleep hygiene, you’ve now significantly increased your odds of getting good sleep. You at least know enough to sit down with your healthcare practitioner and discuss the topic of a better night’s sleep more in-depth. And even if you didn’t get enough sleep, here are 5 proven ways to get more energy today.

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Tero Isokauppila is the founder of Four Sigmatic. Tero’s roots (or mycelium, if you will) are in Finland, where he grew up growing and foraging natural foods on his 13th generation family's farm. He later earned a degree in Chemistry, Business, and a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition at Cornell University. An expert in all things related to nutrition, health, and wellness. Tero is the author of two best-selling books: Healing Mushrooms and Healing Adaptogens.

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