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Sleep & Adrenals

November 2020 - Health & Wellness

Does this sound familiar? You’re tired all day long. You’re foggy, exhausted, and counting the minutes until this day is over so you can go back to bed. Then, when you finally curl up into bed your mind turns back on and spins from topic to topic. Every worry and stress you have runs through your head all night long.

Or, even worse, around 9:30 or 10 pm you suddenly wake up fully and feel like a million bucks. You have all the energy you’ve been wanting…but it’s bedtime! Instead of going to sleep, you’re running around the house doing all the ironing and housework you were too tired to do earlier.

Either way, the result is the same. You start the next day groggy and tired again. Why? Why? Why can’t I fall asleep??

Let’s face it, lives are pretty stressful nowadays. So many of you started this year feeling pretty burned out…and all of the turmoil of this year hasn’t made it any easier.

Your body isn’t meant to stay stressed all day, every day. The stress response is meant for lifesaving measures, like running away from a bear. But today, our collective stressors are more physiological than physical…and our body can’t tell the difference. This means that thinking or worrying about something stressful triggers the same fight or flight reaction as actually facing it. No wonder we’re all so stressed out and tired!

Cortisol and Melatonin
As the stress builds up in your life, your adrenal glands, that produce your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, start to get tired.

At first, they pump out extra cortisol, giving you energy and drive to get everything done (along with high blood pressure and maybe a few extra pounds).

All-day high cortisol can block your important-for-sleep hormone melatonin, making it hard to sleep at night. Extra coffee is needed in the morning to get going, but that jolt works like a charm.

Eventually, the adrenals tire out and your cortisol levels can’t keep up to the demands of life. Your cortisol takes forever to climb in the morning, keeping you groggy and tired for hours. Coffee barely gives a jolt and it’s hard to stay on task. Heck, it’s hard to remember your name some days!

Low cortisol all day can trigger the body to do a curious thing…ramp up at night. This can be seen in a cortisol spit test, to see how your adrenals are faring (available at most ND offices).

Cortisol and melatonin dance together every day. In a perfectly functioning body, cortisol rises in the morning and is at its highest around noon. It descends throughout the afternoon and near dusk, melatonin starts its own rise. Melatonin is at its highest around midnight. Both hormones trigger each other, and this is a key reason why stress causes sleep problems.

If you’re feeling like your tired adrenals might be causing sleep issues, don’t fret! There are many ways to support your sleep as your adrenals recover.

3 Sleep Tips for Tired Adrenals

1. Reset your circadian rhythm.
Your body is tied to the light and dark cycles of nature and uses sunlight to guide the release of cortisol and melatonin. Unfortunately, artificial lighting and the blue light from phones, laptops, and TVs confuse this delicate system. There are two things to add to your day to help reset your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

First, go outside when you first wake up in the morning and spend a few moments basking in the early morning light. This will let your body know it’s morning—time for some cortisol to wake you up. If you can, also head outside around sunset so your body knows it’s evening.

Secondly, use the “Night Shift” app on your phone, laptop, and other screens. Most electronics today come with a function to shift the blue/white light to a more eye- and circadian-pleasing orange colour after sunset. This will help reduce circadian confusion in your body.

The blue/white light tricks the body into thinking it’s mid-day and the orange light is the natural light of sunset and firelight. It’s a small yet powerful way to support your circadian rhythm.

2. Help your body relax in the evening.
Too much stimulation in the evening can make it hard to fall asleep, and life today is very overstimulating! An intense movie or TV show with adrenaline-pumping chase scenes or quickly finishing up work just before bed are recipes for a troubling night of sleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene by carving out an hour before bed for some relaxation. Get ready for bed earlier than usual, and 30 to 60 minutes before you want to go to sleep, curl up in bed with a good book. This is a gentle and effective way to get to sleep earlier.

3. Try some herbal helpers.
Adaptogenic herbs help your body deal with and recover from chronic stress. They literally help your body adapt to all of the gear changes we need to make each day.

Ashwagandha is a particularly helpful herb because it helps support the adrenals (and thyroid) during the day while also helping the body relax and sleep at night. Ashwagandha can be found in capsules, tinctures, and liquid caps. It’s very popular today and for good reason.

If sleep has been a stressful struggle for you, add one, two, or all three of these tips to your daily routine and watch yourself fall into a restful night’s sleep easier. 

Lisa Kilgour, rhn is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ Registered Holistic Nutritionists. She is Board Certified in Practical Holistic Nutrition and provides free half hour one-on-one nutrition consultations in our stores. Check out the appointment schedule and book your free appointment in-store today or online at naturesfare.com. Learn more: lisakilgour.com

This article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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