Why Sleep? Your Adrenals Need a Break!
The “fight or flight” syndrome – you’ve heard of it, right? Most often accompanied by the image of a saber-toothed tiger dashing after a hunter, getting ready to attack. A situation you get yourself into often, right? 😉 OK, so maybe we’re not literally in that frantic position in this day and age, but the analogy is not far off. Our bodies are often reacting as if we were fighting for our lives! Our adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, are forced to work overtime in an effort to deal with stress from all sources: injury, disease, work, family, finances, environment, etc.
It’s hard to imagine, but these small endocrine glands, essentially the size of a walnut, are responsible for the manufacture and secretion of vital hormones such as cortisol, estrogen and testosterone. These hormones regulate immune function, energy production and storage, heart rate, muscle tone, AND they play an important role in helping you combat stress. When something stresses you out, your adrenals kick into gear by pumping out these hormones, which allows you to relax. The process is all good….UNTIL stress becomes chronic. And let’s face it, thousands of years ago stress lasted a finite amount of time – you either outran the predator or survived or you were eaten. Nowadays, stress seems to be a state of being for so many people.
Although not getting along with a boss or missing a bill payment are not life-threatening like the saber-toothed tiger, our bodies react to the stressors in a similar fashion. The body starts to feel unsettled. More and more cortisol is produced because the body believes it needs massive amounts of energy to run for its life. This happens over and over again throughout the day: getting the kids ready for school and getting yourself ready for work, traffic, spilling coffee on your new suit, your assistant calls in sick and you’ve got to send out 20 packages today, the babysitter is late picking up the kids from school and taking them to soccer practice, your late afternoon meeting runs over and you leave the office late so family dinner becomes you eating leftovers alone. Phew, I’m stressed just writing about it
And get this….it’s all going to happen again tomorrow!
Here’s the problem: chronic stress can overload the adrenal glands to the point of exhaustion. For some, the fatigue will become overwhelming and the adrenals will no longer function properly to provide the energy and resources the body needs on a day-to-day basis.
When someone is exhausted, a natural suggestion is to get more sleep. That’s not always easy with adrenal problems because insomnia is a common symptom.
Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue include: craving salty or sugary foods, having trouble bouncing back from illness, having a very short fuse, chronic anxiety, low sex drive, inability to stay focused, trouble getting up in the morning even when you’ve had a reasonable amount of sleep, and feeling extremely run down and overwhelmed.
There are, however, steps you can take to prepare yourself for sleep, which is certainly one of the best ways to refresh and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit.
For better sleep and to heal your adrenal glands:
- Go to bed at the same time every night ideally between 10-10:30pm, and wake up at the same time every day. Aim for 8 hours of of sleep.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar in the late afternoon/evening (or remove them completely from your diet to avoid any rollercoaster-like blood sugar surges). Also, avoid alcohol too close to bedtime. It may help you fall asleep, but it will actually interfere with you staying asleep. That means no REM sleep, which is vital for processing stress.
- Keep a gratitude journal near your bedside. Every night, list five things for which you are grateful. Remind yourself that even though you may feel fatigued, there are wonderful aspects of your life and many reasons to heal.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and free from electronics. Yep, that means leaving your iphone/ ipad in another room so you can actually recharge peacefully!
- Create a relaxing ritual at bed time. Try and epsom salt bath with lavender, or taking some quiet time to clear your mind and enjoy a cup of herbal tea.
- And of course, choose nutritious meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable, and never have a heavy meal within 2 hours of bedtime.
Taking time to get your sleep habits in check will not only help you decrease stress and keep your adrenals happy, but there are a myriad of other benefits to your health and well-being. Sleep will keep you feeling sharp and focused, in good spirits, and will keep your immune system rockin’ and your metabolism stoked. And who doesn’t want all of that?!
The bottom line is, sleep is one of the simplest yet most overlooked remedies for much of what ails us. It will keep you healthy and happy, and for many more years than our sleep deprived friends will enjoy!