Sleep Hygiene Checklist: 14 Things You Can Do to Sleep Better Naturally
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.
In fact, insomnia is the most common sleep issue experienced by American adults. A whopping 30 to 40 percent of adults report having occasional insomnia, while 10 to 15 percent find it difficult to sleep pretty much every night. The bottom line is that more than a hundred million American adults aren’t getting the sleep they need on a regular basis.
That figure helps explain why Americans spend spend biillions on sleep aids and remedies annually and nine million U.S. adults use prescription sleep aids. In one Consumer Reports survey, 41 percent of people who reported using over-the-counter sleep aids had been taking them for a year or more, while 48 percent of this group admitted to using these drugs multiple times a week.
That’s concerning because a variety of sleep aids have been shown to be addictive and/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?
The good news is there’s a wide variety of holistic strategies that are proven to facilitate sleep without all the nasty side effects. Here’s how you can sleep better the natural way.
The Causes and Consequences of Not Sleeping Well
Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep well and long enough to wake up feeling ready to take on the day. Its symptoms include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up throughout the night
- Waking up early in the morning, before feeling fully rested
- Experiencing sleepiness, irritability, and/or difficulty concentrating during the day
For some people, insomnia might show up for a few days during a particularly stressful week, while others might find that sleeplessness plagues them for months or even years.
Whether acute or chronic, insomnia is frequently exacerbated by other conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and stress. It can also be a side effect of certain medications. For most people, there’s no single cause of insomnia. Instead, it’s the result of a combination of factors ranging from medical issues to an over-packed schedule, working and/or commuting long hours, and/or lifestyle choices such as spending lots of time using electronics or drinking caffeine too close to bedtime.
No matter the cause, insomnia (especially the chronic kind) can come with some pretty nasty side effects. These include:
- A higher risk of being involved in a car or industrial accident
- A higher risk of chronic diseases including cancer, depression, diabetes, and hypertension
- Mood issues, such as irritability
- Persistent fatigue, which is often accompanied by reduced motivation
- A higher risk of making errors at work (In fact, employee sleepiness costs American businesses $63 billion in lost productivity every year)
That’s all the bad news. The good news is nobody is doomed to a life sans sleep. Any person who’s willing to make a few lifestyle changes can significantly up their chances of sleeping well.
How to Sleep Better Naturally: Your Sleep Hygiene Checklist
Whether you struggle with restlessness or actually suffer from insomnia, here are proven, natural strategies to help you sleep better.
Enlist the power of mushrooms.
People have utilized functional mushrooms for thousands of years. Reishi deserves special accolades here: The so-called “queen of the mushrooms” has been shown to 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.) Reishi has also been shown to reduce anxiety (in cancer patients), which can further enhance your odds of falling and staying asleep.
Functional mushrooms don’t just help you get better sleep; they can also help you feel more energized once you’re awake. Cordyceps, in particular, can help support energy levels and reduce fatigue. This is thanks largely to cordyceps’ beta-glucans, which deliver oxygen to the body’s cells, as well as its ability to boost levels of ATP (the body’s main energy supply source).
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.
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.
Make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
When it comes to sleep, set and setting matter. 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 black-out shades if light still makes its way through the curtains)
- Doing everything in your power to make the bedroom a quiet space, even if that means purchasing ear plugs or a white noise machine to avoid hearing your noisy night owl of a neighbor
- Turning down the thermostat so the bedroom is no warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit
- Removing electronics from the bedroom so you aren’t tempted to use light-emitting devices in bed
Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
That’s a pretty general order, so let’s break it down:
- 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 are wont to experience nicotine withdrawal while they’re lying in bed, thereby causing them to toss and turn instead of snoozing
- Limit your caffeine consumption, and try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening. Stimulants and the desire for sleep do not mix well. (One exception: Mushroom coffee is less likely to keep you up at night even if you drink it later in the day)
- Enjoy some form of exercise every day (or as many days as you can manage). This helps tire out the body, which can make you more likely to fall asleep. Moderate aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality. Just try not to exercise right before bed, as this can temporarily energize you and increase the length of time it takes to fall asleep
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol before bed, as booze has a disruptive impact on sleep cycles. 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.
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 have been shown to increase sleep duration and sleep quality.
Another good option for reducing stress before bed? Write in a journal. There’s some evidence 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.
Spend time outside.
Hanging out in the Great Outdoors exposes us to natural light, which stimulates your body to maintain a healthy melatonin balance. There’s a lot of science behind this idea, but 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.
Armed with a basic understanding of how insomnia operates and the lifestyle choices that can help stop it in its tracks, you’ve now significantly increased your odds of getting a good night’s sleep. Or you could always try counting sheep.