In my last post, I shared a bit about my health history and the basics of adrenal fatigue (if you missed part 1, read it here). My tendency when it comes to any health-related issue is to start by looking at food and my diet. However, as I’ve learned through my healing journey, food is important, but it isn’t everything. For this reason, today we’re starting by talking about stress and sleep.
Stress: the culprit
Our bodies were designed to handle short-term crises, but in our modern world, most of us live with chronic stress that taxes our adrenals. When recovering from adrenal fatigue, addressing stress is one of the most important things you can do.
Yet, oddly enough, stress was one of the last things I addressed. It feels so silly now in hindsight, but the truth is that I honestly didn’t realize how stressed I was. And, when you live with constant stress (as so many of us do), I think we build a tolerance to it and don’t realize the true toll it’s taking.
In my case, my biggest sources of stress could be boiled down to two things: 1) a really stressful job and 2) doing too much.
A career change
I’ve known for awhile that I was ready to make a career transition and so I recently left my full-time job. I’ll be sharing more in a future post about the direction I’m headed in, but in the meantime, I decided to take a short break from working full-time in order to prepare for my graduate program in the fall.
Remember how I said that I didn’t realize how stressed I was? Well, five days after leaving my full-time job, my fasting blood glucose went from being in the pre-diabetic range back down to normal. A week later I began to sleep through the night during most nights. And, a few days after that I suddenly realized that I no longer felt irritable, constantly on edge, or fatigued in the afternoons. These may sound like small things on paper, but in the course of my daily life, let me assure you that these are huge wins.
Learning to do less
Since I graduated from grad school in my early twenties, I have always worked the equivalent of 3 jobs. While working full-time at a non-profit, I also worked as a classroom assistant for a cooking program and ran this blog. Then on top of that, I began studying to get certified as a holistic health coach.
After I received my certification, I began working with private clients and running a separate holistic health blog/business. About eight months later, I was really, really burned out. In an effort to save my sanity, I decided to stop working with private clients and consolidate my holistic health blog/business into this food blog.
Then, I decided to change careers a bit and began working in the private sector. In addition to my full-time job, I began writing cookbooks. I wrote one each year from 2013 – 2016, on top of continuing to work full-time, working as a classroom assistant, running this food blog, and doing freelance recipe development work. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there I also got a professional certification that takes most people about a year, but I did it in five months.
Now, let me be clear: These paragraphs above are not here to brag or show off. As I’m typing this, I’m not proud of my behavior. In fact, I’m astonished that my body put up with me for as long as it did. It wasn’t until I quit my full-time job and was still able to fill a full day from 7 am to 7 pm that I realized just how much I was doing and how much harm I was doing to my body.
So, this type-A overachiever is currently learning how to do less instead of more. And, in all honesty, I don’t know yet exactly what that looks like (or how things will look when I go back to school in the fall), but part of this journey is figuring it out. The bottom line is that in order to heal from adrenal fatigue, we have to identify our stressors and try to remove/reduce stress as much as possible. (Check out this post on 10 Ways to Ease Stress and Anxiety for more tips on ways to reduce stress.)
Getting Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is key to help our bodies reduce elevated cortisol and restore proper function of the adrenals, however, it can be really tough to get enough sleep when you have adrenal fatigue.
Even though I always went to sleep by 9:30 – 10 pm, I would consistently wake up around 3 am and find myself unable to get back to sleep. In working with my naturopath, I did a cortisol test and we were able to see that my cortisol is too high in the evenings, which makes sense why it was causing me to wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious.
My naturopath also did tests to check the levels of my neurotransmitters and the results showed that my excitatory neurotransmitters (e.g. Glutamate, PEA) were too high while other neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, norepinephrine) were too low. This imbalance was also contributing to my sleep difficulties.
My naturopath put me on four supplements to help calm my body and sleep through the night:
- Calm CP: promotes restful sleep and reduces anxiousness
- Calm G: reduces anxiousness by inhibiting glutamate
- Travacor: boosts mood and promotes restful sleep
- Kavinace: boosts GABA to help calm the body and promote restful sleep
I currently take 2 of each supplement about 30 minutes before bed and I’m now able to sleep through the night most of the time. And, even on nights when I do wake up, I’m usually able to fall back to sleep within an hour (which wasn’t the case before I started these supplements). Supplementation has been a game-changer for me and if you’re struggling with adrenal fatigue and not sleeping, I would definitely recommend working with a naturopath or medical professional who can help you determine what supplements are best for your body.
Sleep and Blood Sugar
The other thing that completely changed my ability to sleep was having a snack right before bedtime. In my research on healing from adrenal fatigue, I realized why I would often wake up hungry in the middle of the night:
“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 hypoadrenic, 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” – Dr. James L. Wilson, Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome
As I’m focusing on healing, I’ve also begun sleeping more. A lot more. I’m currently going to bed by 10 pm and am sleeping until 8 am. On weekends if I feel particularly exhausted, I’m even taking a short nap in the afternoons.
Part of me was honestly getting a bit concerned if I was sleeping too much, but I’m finding that my body is starting to feel more rested overall so I’ve given myself permission to sleep as much as I need.
It also helped to read in Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, that Dr. James L. Wilson actually prescribes 11 hours of sleep for patients healing from adrenal fatigue. His recommended schedule is to be in bed before 10:00 pm and sleep in until 9:00 AM whenever possible. Although this may not be possible for everyone or possible all the time, I think it definitely helps to get as much rest as you possibly can.
And, if you haven’t already created an ideal sleep environment and routine, I would also recommend checking out my previous series on getting better sleep:
- How to Get Better Sleep (Part 1)
- How to Relax Before Bed (Part 2)
- How to Create a Bedtime Routine (Part 3)
Do you have any tips for reducing stress and getting better sleep? Please share in the comments below!
P.S. Don’t miss part 3 of my journey that focuses on diet!