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Sleep & Adrenal Fatigue

Sleep Disturbances

People are becoming more aware of the ravages of stress and how it leaks into every corner of their lives. Of course, increased stress means increased sleep disturbances for many. Less sleep means they experience more stress the day after. This pattern continues in a vicious cycle, making stress and sleep loss in terms of hours and quality intimately interconnected.

If stress has somewhat depleted the adrenal glands, which is often the case, people under stress do not wake feeling rested. Cortisol, an adrenal hormone, is needed to allow that person to wake feeling refreshed and bouncing out of bed in the morning. It is also important to induce an alpha wave, a requirement for the first phase of sleep. If cortisol is low, falling asleep is difficult. Cortisol is also necessary to maintain good blood sugar levels throughout the day and night. If cortisol is low during the day people wake feeling tired and often need coffee, cola and other caffeinated beverages to get going and to keep going during the day. This over consumption of caffeine not only causes blood sugar to rapidly rise and then precipitously fall an hour and a half later, but also tends to interfere with sleep that night. The resulting lack restful sleep creates more stress the next morning and perpetuates the cycle of low cortisol and difficulty sleeping. This low adrenal function is a frequent occurrence in both sleep disturbance and inadequate response to stress. During adrenal fatigue, a condition where the adrenal glands are not able to keep up with the demands placed on them, people often have problems managing their stress and sleeping well.

Sleep and Adrenal Fatigue

There can be several reasons for sleeplessness with adrenal fatigue. If you are waking between 1:00 and 3:00 AM, your liver may be lacking the glycogen reserves needed for conversion by the adrenals to keep the blood glucose levels high enough during the night. Blood sugar is normally low during the early morning hours but, if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, your blood glucose levels may sometimes fall so low that hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) symptoms wake you during the night. This is often the case if you have panic or anxiety attacks, nightmares, or sleep fitfully between 1:00 and 4:00 AM. To help counteract this, have one or two bites of a snack that contains protein, unrefined carbohydrate, and high quality fat before going to bed, such as half a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter or a slice of cheese on a whole grain cracker.

Both too high and too low nighttime cortisol levels can cause sleep disturbances. To determine if this is a problem for you, simply do a saliva cortisol test at night and compare your night sample levels with your own daytime levels and with the test standards for those times. To do the night test, take a saliva sample at bedtime, another if you wake up during the night and a third when you wake up in the morning. Write the time each sample was taken on the vial and in your notebook on a separate sheet of paper. If cortisol is the culprit, your cortisol levels will be significantly higher or lower than normal for those times. If your nighttime cortisol levels are too low, you may sleep better when you exercise in the evening, before going to bed because exercise tends to raise cortisol levels. If your nighttime cortisol levels are too high, try doing one of the relaxation or meditation exercises to calm you down before going to bed. The specific yoga posture called the alternate leg-pull can be quite helpful in getting to sleep or returning to sleep. This is a basic yoga posture that almost any yoga book or video will describe but an instructor is preferable because there is some subtlety to doing this posture.

Additional things you can do to improve your sleep:

  • Above all, go to bed before 10:30 PM and stay in bed until 9:00AM as often as possible, even if it is just on the weekends. It is amazing how restorative sleeping until 9:00 AM is for the adrenals.
  • Be sure to get enough physical exercise during the day. Try varying the kinds of exercise you do, their intensity or when you exercise. Many people have told me swimming at night helps them sleep.
  • Certain postures in yoga, ta’I chi and qi gong can also be helpful. Check with a teacher of these disciplines to find out which postures or exercises would specifically help you.
  • Avoid coffee, caffeine containing beverages and chocolate because they act as stimulants. These can interrupt sleep patterns and increase morning lows. Even if they are consumed early in the day, they can disrupt sleep and make the next morning harder to negotiate.
  • Some people are photosensitive and watching television or looking at at computer screen keeps their melatonin from rising and inducing sleep. If you are having difficulty going to sleep and usually are staring at a TV or computer screen late at night, try having an 8:00 PM limit on these visual stimuli.
  • If your cortisol levels are low late at night, try exercising in the evening, as exercise raises cortisol levels and may afford you a sound night’s sleep.
  • There are particular nutritional supplements that can be beneficial. Often melatonin (0.3-1.3 mg) taken 30 minutes before bedtime helps establish normal sleep patterns. Calcium citrate (500mg) taken with 50 mg of 5-hydroxytriptophan (5HTP) at night before retiring is also relaxing and helps many people sleep throughout the night. Trace mineral tablets taken at the evening meal also help relax the body. Adrenal extracts taken ½ hour before bedtime often help those with adrenal fatigue fall asleep and remain asleep. If your adrenal fatigue is moderate or severe, try this one first.
  • The hypothalamus is very important in regulating sleep. Although accurately testing hypothalamic function is complicated, a simple test you can do yourself is to try takig one to four tablets of hypothalamus extract and 10-40mg of manganese before bedtime and see if your sleep improves. Sometimes the hypothalamus tablets need to be combined with the adrenal extracts to normalize sleep.
  • There are also several herbs commonly used to promote better sleep such as hops (whole plant), catnip (leaves), valerian (root) and licorice (root). Although not known as a sedative, the herb ashwagandha can help indirectly through its ability to normalize cortisol and sex hormones, both of which can produce sleep disturbances.

If none of these help and your life is being deleteriously affected by lack of or interrupted sleep, check your local area for the location of the nearest sleep center. Several cities around the country have these centers that specialize in helping individuals determine the cause of their sleep disturbances.

Take Short Horizontal Rests During the Day

During the day, you will probably notice that you have particular times when you feel more lethargic, cloudy headed, tired or have other symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Try to schedule your breaks so that when these occur, you can physically lie down for 15-30 minutes. Lying down is much more restorative than sitting for the person with adrenal fatigue.

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14 Responses to Sleep & Adrenal Fatigue

  1. Stephanie Clifton says:

    Hi … may I ask a question to someone who sees many Adrenal Exhaustion sufferers please ?
    I have had AE for more than 20yrs. For the last 10yrs or so I have had discomfort in my left side & for the last 2yrs or so I have also had discomfort in my right side [ this feels as if my skirt is too tight, but it is not ] I have had an abdominal scan twice, both were negative. Do other AE sufferers get side aches / pains which are continual, though sometimes worse than others .. and do you have any idea why, apart from assuming it’s indigestion [ the possible cause being long-term low body temperature & insufficient metabolism ] ? The aches are very specific, at lowest rib / waist level towards the front ? Thanks for reading my question.

    • Luc says:

      Stephanie, I have had this problem intermittently over the years and it’s always at certain points in my monthly cycle. It began after i had ovary poblems and i have found no relief apart :(

    • Cindi says:

      I have that too!! I had no idea it had anything to do with the adrenal exhaustion, but apparently it does…

  2. Sandy says:

    Stephanie….you may want to check out the symptons of Wilson’s Syndrome (not disease)……I’ve had so many myself. One can have aches and pains with low body temperature just like elevated body temperature….I have fibromlyalgia and chronic fatigue….my body temperature was at 96.5 to 97.1. Once I got my body temperature back up…..it helped my pain. I’m on Reverse T-3 Therapy (Fibro and Fatigue Center did lots of blood work to figure it out) which has really helped mine pain and energy.

  3. Stacie says:

    I have AF, advised I am in a late stage scenario as I waited a very long time before seeking treatment. However, now I am and I have learned to avoid any and all stimulants. Even the iodine and things I was taking for my thyroid are too stimulating. I am treating with Dr. Lam and he advises at this time while repairing and healing the adrenals not to take glandulars, thyroid assistance, ashwaganda or anything that is the least bit stimulating as we have to heal the adrenals first. Just thought I would pass this along. I buy raw nuts online to ensure they are not CA pasteurized and soak them overnight and eat a handful of almonds and or walnuts before bed to help my blood sugar. I am just starting to sleep heavy and sound but cannot quite get enough sleep b/c I have to wake up for work. I wake and it is like my body is screaming for more. I am told this is normal and my body is just healing and I just need more sleep. Wish I could sleep til 9 am each day but work calls. Best of luck to you.

    • adrenalfatigue says:

      Hi Stacie,

      Dr. Wilson and Dr. Lam do differ in their approach to supporting the adrenals during adrenal fatigue. Dr. Wilson recommends using glandular extracts, which he included in the Adrenal Rebuilder, but what makes this formula unique is that it’s a glandular extraxt supplement formulated to remove hormones. The hormonal content in other glandular extract supplements is what tends to be stimulating. Dr. Wilson also recommends using ashwagandha, which he included in the Herbal Adrenal Support Formula, though not as a stimulant. Something to keep in mind is people may react to herbs in different ways, so not everyone is able to take every herb successfully. It would certainly be great if we could all sleep in until 9 every day, but as you said, duty calls. The important thing is to ensure you’re getting enough rest. Getting to bed early and planning for a full night’s rest is important, especially when dealing with adrenal fatigue. Hope this helps, and I wish you the best in your health and recovery.

      Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Team

    • Dave says:

      Stacie, just wondering, if you have been advised to refrain from taking Adrenal Glandulars & Ashwaganda, what is it that you DO take that is working for you?? I have severe insomnia and Adrenal Fatigue and am curious as to what your supplement protocol is, if you don’t mind sharing.

  4. Kendra says:

    I believe I have moderate adrenal fatigue and am young, 31, and seemingly healthy. I have been suffering from insomnia for 10 years, but it has gotten much worse the past two years. I also have a lot of anxiety, and the sleep and the anxiety have become a vicious cycle in which the two feed off of each other. I only recently learned about adrenal fatigue and am excited to start healing, but after reading Dr. Wilson’s book and all of his recommendations, I am feeling very overwhelmed. There’s so much, where do I start? And what simple things can I do to most help my sleep? Does anyone have any direction?

    • Hi Kendra,

      It’s completely understandable to be feeling a little overwhelmed right now. You might want to start by visiting adrenalfatigue.org for more information about adrenal fatigue, take the Adrenal Fatigue Questionnaire to help determine if you do have adrenal fatigue, and to identify your next steps.

      Many people find that taking a herbal supplement such as the Herbal Adrenal Support Formula helps promote calm during the night and get restful sleep. Following Dr. Wilson’s recommendations about diet, reducing and managing stress, and general lifestyle changes can also help alleviating your anxiety to break this anxiety/insomnia cycle.

      We hope this information helps!

      -Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Team

  5. John says:

    Hi Team -
    I am wondering if someone could recommend a next step for me here with a specific sleeping issue – I’ve used Dr. Wilson’s products and his book has helped me enormously. I am 29, male, have had a lot of stress/trauma in my early 20′s especially.
    I am using gentle things like licorice and magnesium; I am able to sleep for 5-6 hours, but then I start to wake up and have an uncomfortable erection and the urge to urinate. I am *sometimes* able to get back to sleep, and sometimes not; the urge to urinate comes back, even though I’ve already gone. This only happens during a sleep cycle (in other words, it doesn’t happen at all during the day). I have tried many sleep aids including recently hypothalamus extract and manganese, which made me too wired and seemed to exacerbate this issue.
    I’d be grateful for any suggestions or thoughts you might have.
    Thank you !

  6. Darlene says:

    I’d be interested in the team’s response to John’s question. I have a similar problem, although I’m a female. I awake about 5 or 6 hours to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I can go back to sleep and sometimes not. Sometimes, after I wake up, I have the urge to urinate about every hour before I actually have to get up. So no sleep. It’s a maddening syndrome. It doesn’t happen every night, but often enough that it’s a problem. Any ideas for us frequent urinators?

    Thank you!

  7. Anne says:

    Where can I find the tablets of hypothalamus extract mentioned at the end of the article?

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