General Health & Well-beingWomen's Health

Why Sleep? Your Adrenals Need a Break



Why Sleep? Your Adrenals Need a Break

Remember in school when we learned about the fight or flight syndrome? This is “our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from perceived attack, harm or threat to our survival.”

In ancient times, this threat was usually an animal—a lion or dinosaur that wanted you for its dinner, (not sure if humans and dinosaurs coexisted but you get what I mean) so you literally ran for your life. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about being chased by lions or dinosaurs anymore, but this innate response is still alive and kicking.

Today, the threat comes when you are constantly stressed, or eat foods your body is sensitive to (whether you know you have a food sensitivity or not). This causes your body to release histamines, causing inflammation. Your sympathetic nervous system in charge of this fight or flight syndrome signals your adrenal glands to secrete the same stress hormone cortisol, that it produced to save you from being eaten by a lion.

This leads to an increase in blood sugar designed to give you the energy to flee whatever’s “chasing” you. But because nothing’s actually chasing you, and your body doesn’t know the difference between a dinosaur and a doughnut, you are left with elevated cortisol and blood sugar levels that can lead to a whole host of metabolic imbalances and reactions that diminish immune system function.

If you regularly consume foods you’re sensitive to, your adrenal glands are constantly working to maintain elevated cortisol levels and your body expends more energy than normal trying to combat this inflammatory effect—leaving you with less energy to function. Your adrenal glands (and you) become chronically fatigued. Enter brain fog, weight gain and blah.

It’s as if you’re running away from a lion 3-4 times a day. You will be WIPED OUT.

What’s more, to compensate for feeling tired, you turn to sugary and starchy foods. Because who craves a salad when they’re tired? But it is precisely these sugary and starchy foods that create the sensitivity to start with. You end up in 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 is a common symptom.

Now that we’ve discussed why food sensitivities affect your energy level, I am going to share the most common food culprits, and why these particular foods can be problematic.

Certain foods tend to cause inflammation more than others. Among the most common culprits are gluten (the protein found in wheat and wheat products), corn, soy and dairy.

One of the major reasons so many people are affected by wheat, corn and soy is that these foods are loaded with pesticides and fungicides. They are often highly processed. Also, a lot of these foods have been genetically modified from their original forms. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are organisms that have been created in a lab and do not exist in nature. Your body is not used to recognizing these foods, and therefore does not know how to process them.

So in order to support your adrenals so they don’t get wiped out, reduce or eliminate these foods and take steps 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 support 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).
  • 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.
  • Establish a rhythm of sleep, go to bed at the same time nightly and get up at the same time.
  • Take short naps if you missed sleep the night before (20 minutes is optimal)
  • Supplement your Vitamin D (if you aren’t sure, have a blood test and get it checked…then supplement it)
  • Get some sunshine during the day
  • Get exercise during the day
  • Turn off your television, computer and iPad at night
  • Turn lights down at night
  • Have a comfortable bed
  • Block noise out
  • Block light out
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool
  • No caffeine 10-12 hours before sleep
  • No large meals (especially beef) before bed
  • No alcohol
  • No smoking
  • Learn relaxation techniques
  • Deep breathing
  • Muscle relaxation (like biofeedback where you progress through your body)
  • Envisioning your peaceful place

Be well!

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Dana Dinnawi

Dana Dinnawi is an Integrative Nutrition health coach specializing in empowering women to improve their health and family life. She received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she studied more than one hundred dietary theories and a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. She can be reached through her website and Facebook page.

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