Tips to Naturally Reduce Stress

Tips to de-stress your life

Stress kills. No, really… Even if a person has all the other factors right, high levels of stress can derail health. Unfortunately, just knowing stress is a problem doesn’t fix it. If you’re like me, the need to reduce stress just adds another item on the “to-do” list. Laundry… check. Dishes… check. De-stress… not so much.

What Stress Does

Chronic stress keeps stress hormones elevated, suppresses the immune system, and can put you at higher risk for heart disease or cancer. High stress levels over extended periods of time put you at higher risk for many diseases and can shorten your lifespan.

Elevated stress hormones will interfere with the body’s ability to properly digest and assimilate food, and lowers insulin sensitivity, which can lead to weight gain or pre-diabetes.

Factors besides just mental or emotional stress can create the same physical reaction. Toxins from our food, water and air can create a stress reaction in the body, as can an unhealthy diet or lack of sleep.

What Causes Stress?

Stress reactions and activation of the stress hormones can be caused by physical, emotional/mental, or chemical factors. Bad news for us, since these sources are abundant these days! Emotional stress we are all familiar with (those of us who have been pregnant, perhaps more so!). Physical stress can come from obvious factors like injury or trauma, but also from less obvious sources like poor diet, lack of good fats (which are needed for proper hormone production), and lack of sleep (repeat: lack of sleep can cause physical stress!).

Chemicals put undue stress on our bodies too, and can come from food and water sources, environmental toxins, and products we purposefully put on our bodies (like deodorants and personal care products). Add up all these factors, and it is quite logical that we are under more stress these days than when life or death situations (like invaders, wild animals or famine) presented themselves daily, and we don’t know how to get rid of the stress.

Poor diet, which often includes lack of nutrients (making the body think it is in famine mode) and concentrations of toxins (diet coke anyone?) causes a legitimate stress on the body and can interrupt normal bodily functions.

What Stress Does to the Body

As I mentioned before, stress causes reactions in the body that prepare it for danger situations. In the absence of true danger situations, this means that the body still operates without some normal functions. For instance, the body uses progesterone to manufacture cortisol in the adrenals during periods of stress. Progesterone is also needed for the body for successful ovulation and hormone balance (not to mention carrying a pregnancy). Ovulating wouldn’t be a priority for someone running for her life, but for a woman with chronic low level stress who wants to conceive, this can be devastating.

The stress reaction is controlled by hormones, and the endocrine system functions as a whole rather than in isolated parts, chronic stress affects much more than just the adrenals. An overabundance of adrenaline and cortisol can interrupt other hormones like serotonin, melatonin, and fertility hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, lutenizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, etc.) and cause problems like anxiety, depression, insomnia, muscle problems, infertility, and menstrual disturbances.

Prolonged stress also contributes to aging and weight gain, which I am not a fan of myself. Weight gain around the mid section (especially in women) is actually often a symptom of impaired adrenals and the low progesterone that results. In these periods of chronic stress caused by not sleeping enough, not eating quality foods, inadequate exercise, and mental/emotional stress, the body will let certain aspects of health deteriorate because it thinks it is keeping you alive in a period of danger (more danger than a missed deadline at work!).

When Stress Made Me Sick

Stress and sleep are the big gaping holes in my own health. Sure, it’s easy to write about them, and I know what I need to do to optimize them, but with four little ones, a blog, and a part time job I do from home, the execution is often difficult.

Several years ago, my stress reached a level that drastically impacted my health. My husband had an emergency appendectomy and that the doctor said his appendix had likely been calcified since childhood.

The original surgery required a 2-day hospital stay (and it was the first time I’d left my baby overnight). He came home and felt awful for another week. He wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping well, and couldn’t do anything.

At his follow up appointment, the doctor discovered that he had a secondary infection that he’d picked up in the hospital. They found an abscess where the appendix had been and drained about 8 ounces of puss from it. They put in a drain that stayed for about a week.

A culture of the puss revealed 4 types of bacteria (picked up in the hospital) including the flesh eating bacteria c-diff. This time, he had to stay in the hospital for 8 days, and was on IV broad spectrum antibiotics every 6 hours. (I cringed for his poor gut every time they brought them in!)

For me, this meant another week of being away from the kids, and in the hospital with him. When I started getting a sore throat and flu-like symptoms, I was put on an antibiotic too, to make sure that I hadn’t picked up any of his resistant bacteria and that I wouldn’t carry it home to the kids.

He finally got discharged from the hospital, and both of our symptoms were clearing up, so we got to go home. He was still under the weather, and hadn’t been able to work for about a month thanks to the surgery and infection, so I was taking care of the kids, the house and him, plus trying to keep up with both of our work deadlines to make ends meet financially.

I was definitely stressed…. to say the least, but I’d always worked well under pressure, so I brushed it off and figured I’d relax and catch up on sleep when things got back to normal.

Then, I started having numbness in my fingers, toes and lips, and my heart was racing. My blood pressure and pulse were high and I was shaking. I called the doctor, since I’d had allergic reactions to antibiotics in the past, and was afraid I was having an allergic reaction.

The doc checked and told me that none of these symptoms were listed as side effects or allergic reaction symptoms to this antibiotic, and asked what my stress level was…

I laughed…

After a follow-up, it turns out that I was on the verge of a panic attack… The remedy? Learn to relax and reduce stress (yeah, right, I’ll just add that to my to-do list).

Since then, things have calmed down, my husband is doing much better, the kids are sleeping normally again, and my blood pressure is back to normal, but my brush with it all really re-enforced how much stress can affect your physical health.

How To Reduce Stress and Feel Better

We all know that reducing stress is important to optimal health, but how do we do it, practically speaking? Since we can’t truly function at our best with chronic stress, this is an important factor to address in the quest for good health.

1. Eat Real Foods

You’ve heard this one a lot if you’ve read anything else around here, but it rings true again. Poor diets full of processed foods, grains, sugars, and chemicals put a tremendous stress on the body. For many people (Some experts estimate close to 85%) grains can put a huge stress on the body as they can cause an immune reaction, damage the intestinal lining and lead to serious disease. Excess carbohydrates can cause this problem too, since if the sugars in carbohydrates cause increased insulin if they aren’t immediately used as fuel.

For a stress-reducing, adrenal nourishing diet, focus on getting your nutrients from fresh, real foods in as close to their natural source as possible. Drink a lot of water and avoid the caffeine.

2. Avoid Toxins

This step goes along with the step above, as unfortunately, our “food” supply can be a major source of toxins. Other sources of toxins include chemicals in toothpastes, personal care products, deodorants, medicines, and cleaning chemicals. Our exposure to large amounts of plastic, especially plastics that have been heated in the microwave, can also cause toxic build up in the body. If the body is in a state of stress, the liver and kidneys are also not functioning optimally, making toxin removal slow and ineffective.

Top steps for reducing toxins include:

  • using only natural beauty and personal care products
  • avoiding plastics and storing food in glass
  • drinking enough water to make sure toxins are being flushed out
  • avoiding processed foods full of chemicals
  • using only natural cleaning products
  • avoiding environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides

3. Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important steps in stress reduction, and the one we are worst at. Historically, the body is used to sleeping when it is dark and being awake when it is light. When we stay awake long after the sun has set and don’t get enough cumulative sleep, we interrupt the body’s natural time for restoration and removal of toxins. The optimal time for regeneration during sleep is roughly between 10 P.M. and 2 A.M. Many people don’t sleep during part or all of this time, causing a backup of toxins and hormones in the body.

The body also has a delicate balance of hormones and depends on serotonin and melatonin to regulate good sleep and alertness during the day. Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep can disrupt the balance of these hormones, making you groggy during the day and restless at night. Poor sleep can also (logically) lead to fatigue, brain fog, memory troubles and additional stress on the body.

4. Learn to Say No

Another logical step that we are all bad at (me especially). I’m not just talking about saying no in a parenting sense (though that could be good too… I recommend “No, you many not eat that candy bar/happy meal/ding dong/fill in the blank”) Many of us have a commitment list as long as our arms, and the stress level to prove it. It is wonderful to help out whenever we can, but make sure you make yourself a priority and realistically evaluate what you can handle while keeping stress low and quality family time high. (Confession: I am really bad at this step myself!).

5. Exercise

Exercise is really helpful in reducing stress in the body. It releases endorphins, helps the body regulate insulin and improves hormone levels. Exercise also boosts your immune function and helps the body use up excess stress hormones. Try to mix it up and try weights and high intensity exercise instead of strict cardio.

6. Get Enough Good Fats

Fats are present in every cell in your body and are necessary for enzymatic reactions and hormone production. There are many kinds of fats, and while your body will use whatever it has, some are certainly more beneficial that others, and some are flat out dangerous. Your body needs saturated fats (coconut oil and animal fats) to produce new cells, manufacture hormones, coat the lungs, for optimal brain function, and many other reactions. The body also needs quality fats to produce, utilize and store vitamin D, a necessary nutrient for immune function and disease prevention. A low-fat diet can actually be a stress on the body, as it won’t have the raw materials it needs to function at its peak.

7. Consume Antioxidant Rich Foods

Many herbal teas contain antioxidants and other nutrients that help reduce stress.

8. Balance Your Hormones!

If your hormones are out of balance, there will be stress on your body even if you are not mentally stressed. Balance your hormones to help de-stress from the inside out.

How do you reduce stress? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. I do ok on most point, but could work on saying no and getting more sleep 🙂

  2. I plan to exercise (Crossfit 3-4X a week!), continue with my 30 day Paleo challenge (it’s currently day 5!) and get more sleep!

  3. 1. SLEEP
    2.Add MORE good fats
    3. Create a consistent exercise plan  <3 Kettlebells!

  4. Stress lives in my neck and shoulders … and my patience. I have just this week started seeing a chiropractor so I can physically feel better, I have altered my diet to natural/raw foods, and have been focusing on taking breaths when I need to refocus, and spending a few mornings a week as me time getting exercise with a friend. Going to bed at a reasonable hour  is my weakest point that I continue to work on.

  5. I’m already on your email list!

  6. For the coming week I’m going to
    1. Ensure I get to sleep at 10:30pm every night.
    2. Continue to be strict about avoiding wheat and other toxins in my diet.
    3. Do at least 3 20-min workout routines after work, with bodyweight exercises and my kettlebell.

  7. 1. Work on going to sleep earlier.
    2. Drinking more water.
    3. Do SOME kind of exercise!

  8. I have signed up for your newsletter and I am going to take these steps to reduce stress:

    1. Up my intake of real foods and stop eating grains, replacing them with real food carbs.
    2. Try making my own herbal teas to up my intake of anti-oxidants.
    3. Change my exercise routine to include weights and other high intensity things

  9. 1. Sleep
    2. Exercise
    3. Eat Real Food – beginning a Whole 30 on Monday.

  10. 1. Get more sleep
    2. Keep eating Paleo (9 weeks so far!)
    3. Keep up with weights/kettlebells a few times a week plus other activity most days

  11. 1. Stop cheating with sugary and non-real foods
    2. Get on a routine sleep schedule
    3. Exercise consistantly

  12. My three action steps for this week:

    1. Do food prep on Sunday night for the rest of the week.  Less floundering for dinner = less stress.
    2. Follow up on the plan of participating in a meditation/mindfulness health research study (phone screening today!).
    3. Make my bed every day of the week!

  13. Restart Green Juicing, Daily walks, Praise and Worship music and hormones for sure AND sleep … I know that’s more than 3 but there you go 

  14. 1. Say no
    2. Drink more water to flush out toxins
    3. Drinking herbal tea instead of coffee

  15. Ok…finally getting on board thanks to new dr. Starting work on hormone balance, healing gut, and detoxing. While this is all initially stressful, praying I am going down the path to a better life…for me and my family:). Love your. Log! It’s very encouraging and full of great info! Thanks:)

  16. 1.  Turn off the TV
    2.  Exercise doing things I enjoy, gardening, biking, kayaking, etc.
    3.  Pray and leave God in control

  17. I have altered my diet to whole foods, but I think I need more healthy fats.  I plan on getting more sleep (my baby is almost 1!).  AND this is the tough one for me…I need to learn to say no more…

  18. I plan to increase exercise, add a cup of herbal tea to my afternoon, and drink more water throughout the day (this is a biggie for me)!!  ;0)

  19. I will try to exercise more, eat better especially for breakfast and lunch i tend to just pick whatever’s around and the sleep part i’m good always in bed by 10pm and up well any time after 5:30 depends on what the kids decide

  20. Definitely need to focus on removing toxins from my life and increasing the amount of sleep I’m getting. Those are the things i’m lacking in the most.

  21. I’m going to incorporate more yoga into my life, get to sleep earlier, and say no to things I don’t want to do!

  22. Continue to eliminate grains from my diet (daily challenge for me!), make sure I am in bed by 10 every night, and include a tablespoon of coconut oil in each cup of green tea I drink.

  23. I suffer from most of the symptoms listed on this site. Severe insomnia, anxiety/stress, and that has led to fatigue and depression – even sickness.

    I will be implementing exercise (daily), a diet of natural foods, and a more consistent sleep schedule.

    (I personally believe nutrition is the key).

  24. #1 is definitely get more sleep.
    #2 is eliminate caffeine, which is contributing to my sleep issues.
    #3 is to switch my beauty products to natural ones.

  25. Get more sleep, reduce toxins in personal care items, eat better

  26. Just started working on a more nutrient dense diet & better sleep. Now its time to tackle exercise & stretching. Would be perfect to win!

  27.  Its also so importaint to take care of yourself! Just do something small for you for once, and not for everybody else.

  28. 1. I will have the light off by 10PM in order to get enough sleep.
    2. I will consume 1/4 cup of coconut oil per day. (I used to put it as well as gelatin in my coffee each morning but since I bought my husband an espresso machine for Father’s Day–best gift ever that i also benefit from :)–I have been having espresso sans coconut oil and gelatin.) I will drink it in herbal tea in the evening.
    3. I will say no more frequently (and not feel guilty about it ).

  29. i will: sleep more, stop stressing about what i can’t control, and take stretching breaks in between working!

  30. The three steps I am taking immediately are diet related – eat real foods, eat good fats, eat lots of antioxidants. Honestly, I think the one step that would help me the most is more sleep, but with a teething baby-monster, there’s no hope of improving that one for a looooong time. No fun.

  31. I have been treating my adrenals for over six months now and conscious of stress reduction.  Most recently, I REALLY need to get the sugar back out of my diet.  This is #1.  Secondly, I really need to start lifting some weights – as I keep reading how this is a preferred exercise over cardio.  #3 would be daily quiet time with God.

  32. I need to work on getting more sleep and also getting stricter with a schedule.  When I do not run on some kind of schedule, I get very stressed!  I hate forgetting things, or running late, and a schedule eliminates this!  Thanks for a great giveaway!!!  These are great for kids with ADD!!! (as well as their overstressed parent)! LOL

  33. 1. Continue eating as I’ve been for the past two months, though try to incorporate more vegetables. 
    2. Get to bed earlier. I’m usually in bed around ten, but spend a while reading before I can fall asleep. I may try to be in bed by 9:30 to start. 
    3. Incorporate more natural beauty products. I’m still looking for a deodorant that works for me. 

    • Hi Erica! I had a lot of trouble finding a good natural deodorant, but have been pretty satisfied with Alvera Aloe & Almonds (found it at Publix grocery store in FL). Other products I tried (including attempts at home-made) caused irritation and/or were not nearly as effective. Hope this helps 🙂

  34. 1. Get back into my yoga program
    2. Meditation and prayer
    3. Increase antioxidants
    4. Get better at scheduling

  35. I will get more quality sleep.
    Eat more unprocessed foods.
    Stretch every night before bed.

  36. 1 – Drink more water
    2 – Have healthier food options on hand so i don’t default to easy junk
    3 – Spend less time at my desk and make a point of stretching out periodically when I am there

  37. I’ve already started to get more/better sleep and I will focus more on good fats and regular exercise!

  38. I feel like this post was written for me at a perfect time.
    1. Be more consistent with my sleep
    2. finally kick the sugar cravings (the only unhealthy part of my diet now)
    3. Make sure to do low stress exercise everyday (i.e. walking, yoga)

  39. I plan on balancing my hormones with the very helpful tips you suggested, staying away from grains, and getting more, better quality sleep.  

  40. 1. Drink more water!!
    2. Eat more good fats! I’m actually heading to whole foods next week to get my unrefined coconut oil.
    3. More regular exercise… I really want to find a kettlebell

  41. 1. Eat more veggies and healthy fat
    2.  Get to bed earlier
    3. Exercise consistently

  42. I’m going to get more sleep, exercise more, and practice more yoga! 🙂

  43. Go to bed earlier (by 11), do yoga daily, and organize my time better throughout the day

  44. My action steps for the week will be to concentrate on getting adequate sleep every night (besides tonight, of course! 😉 ), exercising consistently to get my metabolism and endorphins moving, and taking time every day for some good antioxidant-rich tea! Yay for tea! 🙂

  45. My three action steps to reduce stress this week:
    1) Go on vacation! Yes, I’m really going on vacation this week and I can’t wait. 🙂
    2) Eat real foods. All my meals this week will be home made with real, nutritious food. I’m going camping and including a healthy dose of fruits, vegetables, protein, and fats (nuts).
    3) Exercise. I already exercise regularly. However, I’m particularly looking forward to nature walks and hiking with my family. I’m sure these activities will lead to…
    4) Sleep!

  46. I have definitely added the good fats, and I walk daily with my 8 month old SLEEPING more would be VERY awesome..but she dictates my schedule.  And I’ve already switched to natural cleaning methods and eating real food as much as possible..

  47. 1. Sleep – i am working on going to bed at the same time every night
    2. exercise- my boyfriend is a kettlebell king and I am working with him 
    3. eating more healthy fats, my body is not used to this diet and i need more fat ( healthy ) 🙂

  48. This week I am going to reconnect with supportive friends, get out and dance, and try the flying trapeze with my sister!

  49. I am cutting out caffeine, eating real food, and eliminating toxins! I’m also working on the sleep issue, but that’s a little more out of my control, since I have a non-sleeping toddler. 🙂

  50. I start feeling stressed when my body doesn’t feel it’s best. So…

    1. I will eat healthy whole foods, and cut out toxins from my diet and personal care routine.2. I will get plenty of sleep – start going to bed earlier.
    3. I will (try to) meditate, even for a bit, on a daily basis.

  51. Get more sleep, focus more on real foods, eliminate caffeine

  52. I just picked up some raspberry tea and will be adding that to bedtime routine.
    Also, more walks on the beach and no iPhone usage 2 hrs before bed 🙂 thanks!

  53. I plan to get more sleep, exercise on a regular basis and I’m already using the word “no” more!

  54. 1. Eat better.
    2. Sleep better.
    3. Meditate.

  55. Been working on real foods for awhile, but going to step it up in exercise, good fats, and sleep

  56. I don’t consider myself very stressed, but that’s because I’ve been following the blog for a few months now. Most of my biggest problems were solved by allowing more fat into my diet, and cutting out  grains, but I also desperately needed the magnesium supplements.  That was like magic!  An additional step I started taking with this wellness challenge, is I have added a self hypnosis/meditation for relaxation at bedtime.  I honestly don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it!  I sleep like a LOG!

  57. I am planning on reducing my caffeine intake- Increasing my water intake- and making a serious effort to avoid refined foods…

  58. I appreciate the opportunity to put in writing what I’ve been thinking about doing, but not actually doing.
    1. Set a timer on my computer reminding me to shut it down before 9:40.
    2. Spend 15 minutes praying on the exercise bicycle before I turn on the DVD. (Currently I”m watching Alfred Hitchcock TV shows, but though exercise is good it isn’t an optimum de-stressor.)
    3. Take the beautiful porcelain mug out of the dining room cabinet and use it to drink tea at 3:00 P.M., for a five-minute serenity break. (I have had the mug for 10 years but haven’t actually used it.)

  59. I love reading the articles. Your destress tips are nothing new but something we all need to hear over and over b/c we tend to get way too busy to take care of ourselves as we should. We know, we just don’t do, or don’t do enough. I’m committing to exercise more, sleep more by going to bed earlier, and eating more rich, antioxidant foods and adding a vit c supplement daily. Thx for the encouragement.

  60. All great ideas….this week I am going to get to sleep at a decent hour, walk more during the day and incorporate more good fats into the diet!

  61. 1. I’m going to meditate daily (or do better than I have been doing)
    2. I’m going to do 5 sun salutations every morning
    3. I’m going to be in bed by 9 pm at least 5 nights a week.

  62. I need to work on saying no, on giving myself time to decompress after work, and getting to bed earlier! 

  63. I  will go to bed earlier, eat more good fat, and go on vacation without the kids!!! Yay!

  64. 3 ways I’m going to reduce stress are: 1) drink more water 2) exercise more 3) learn to say “no”.

    thanks for the tips!

  65. I am going to sleep before midnight, exercise 4-6 days a week, and eat 5-8 servings of fruit and veggies every day.

  66. 1 Eat Better
    2 Exercise
    3 Sleep

  67. Three steps I try to take at all times are: 

    1. Exercise
    2. Meditation
    3.  Eating properly

     I suffer from panic attacks and recently had a very rough time with them.  It took some diligence, a lot of deep belly breathing, meditation and walking to get myself back on track.

  68. 3 things that I will do to help relief stress:

    1. I currently just had my first 60 min. Massage the other day. Therefore, to better take care of my self, I decided o o that at least once a month.

    2. I’ve been trying to eat better by cooking healthier, and came across his app. So I will cook healthier meals for my family.

    3. Exercising by taking yoga.

  69. I am so happy to come across this website and know that we also eat the same as suggested here. And chemical free foods completly. Saddly though I have found the emotional stresses I have come across over the last year has not doubt been a large part of the back pain I now am having and am on a roll to looking after myself more hence the Rumbleroller caught my eye. As it is so hard to have time spare after looking after and homeschooling my lovely childern!!!!
    So here goes – I have entered the raffel!!

  70. Blue lights off by 8.
    In bed by 9.
    No more soda.

  71. The three ways I am working on improving my stress levels are getting more sleep (I shoot for at least 8 hours but it’s VERY challenging for me!), eating more nutrient dense foods, and working out at least 5 days a week (I prefer 6).   I also started supplementing with CALM magnesium and have been drinking herbal teas.  Love all the great ideas I get from your blog!  Thanks Wellness Mama!  I hope I win!

  72.  Biggest issue for me is definitely 1) sleep!!, so that I can 2) cut back on caffeine and have more energy to 3) add some “play time” to each day to mentally unwind!

  73. 1. Sleep more.
    2. No diet soda. 🙁
    3. Do better at getting rid of grains.

  74. 1. Continue eating whole foods and drink more water
    2. Get enough sleep…time to go to bed earlier
    3. Increase the intensity of exercise

  75. 1. get up and walk away from my desk several times throughout the day
    2. prep daycare stuff the night before for little one
    3. try to get in an extra workout

  76. I went out today and bought loads of veg! I am also setting a bed time for myself, the kids have one and I now do too lol. I am also exercising more, I have a friend who is a trainer and have signed up with him to get me doing more then cardio!

  77. I quit one of my freelance jobs this week! Also, I’m trying to get more sleep and take more walks with my husband.

  78. I’m going to do the following to work on reducing stress:
    -be in bed by 10pm (this would be a huge improvement for me)
    -make it a priority to eat good fats daily (I always feel better when I do)
    -work on saying “no” so that I have enough time for what I really need to do (a tough one for me!)

  79. 1. Get more sleep.
    2. Start a simple exercise program.
    3. Go on vacation 🙂

  80. It says until 11:59 to enter and 11 minutes ago you posted to hurry but it’s saying no more entries now, at 11:13 🙁
    However, I plan to get more sleep, use the prenatal yoga videos I have, and spend 20 minutes a day meditating/practicing deep breathing and being calm. 🙂

  81. More sleep, less drink, and meditation!

  82. I need to work on my sleep the most!

  83. My other suggestion for this list would be to add, private time. No matter what that means to you, for my boyfriend it’s unwinding with whatever video game he’s into for an hour, for me it’s a good documentary while soaking in a bath. But just that twenty to sixty minutes of private alone time makes a world of difference.

  84. Great article. Are you familiar with Adaptogens? I take one and it totally distresses my body and I sleep way better. I’m a mom – but now my kids are older – 22 and 24. Still, I’m a CEO and have those kinds of stresses. Anyway I’m in love with this product I’m taking. 🙂

      • wonderful! Thanks… I’ll read it. I take this one – – and it helps me sleep WAY better and totally handled some hormone issues too – I was getting 4-5 hot flashes a day and 4-5 more each night… now I get none. NONE. Anyway… I’m a HUGE fan 🙂