The “fight or flight” syndrome – you’ve heard of it, right–it’s accompanied with the image of the saber-toothed tiger dashing after a hunter, getting ready to attack. How often do you get into that situation? In modern times, we’re most likely not in that life-threatening situation, but our bodies are often react as if we’re fighting for our lives. Without the ability to select what is life-threatening or just a nuisance, our adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, are forced to work overtime secreting cortisol and adrenaline in an effort to deal with stress from all sources. Whether it’s injury, disease, work, family, finances, environment, the adrenals perceive all of these as stress.
It’s hard to imagine these small endocrine glands, essentially the size of a walnut, responsible for the manufacture and secretion of the vital hormones cortisol, estrogen and testosterone. Cortisol production is crucial for the body to combat stress. Whereas thousands of years ago stress was a finite amount of time – you either outran the predator and survived or you were eaten – nowadays, stress seems to be as commonplace as the modern day computer.
Even though not getting along with a boss or missing a bill payment are not life-threatening like the saber-toothed tiger, our bodies react to these common stressors in a similar fashion. The body starts to feel unsettled, you miss sleep, overeat or become angry. More and more cortisol is produced as the body believes it’s time to outrun the tiger and needs massive amounts of energy to run for its life. When this happens over and over again throughout the day, cortisol and adrenaline are released which causes blood sugar to flood the system and more and more insulin is released causing the adrenal gland to be overtaxed. It’s a vicious cycle!
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 can be a symptom of adrenal fatigue. 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 between 10-10:30pm.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar in late afternoon/evening (or remove them completely from your diet to avoid any rollercoaster-like blood sugar surges)
- Make sure you’re eating little and often during the day to keep your blood sugar steady.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night–especially if you wake up abruptly and with palpitations–have a small snack of complex carbohydrates such as a few whole grain crackers or a half slice of rye bread about an hour before bed.
- Avoid alcohol
- Have a cup of chamomile tea.
- Try to exercise early in the day.
- Try using aromatherapy oils such as bergamot, lavender, Roman chamomile and marjoram in a warm bath, just before bed.
- Maintain a sleep routine.
- An hour before bed write yourself a to-do list for the next day so you don’t end up mulling over what needs to be done.
- Sex can help you get to sleep.
- Try herbal supplements valerian, passionflower and skullcap.
- Magnesium is known as “nature’ tranqualizer.” Try using the supplement “CALM.”
- Use visualization techniques.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or gentle or yin yoga.
- 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.