What is adrenal fatigue?
While not an official diagnosis on its own, adrenal fatigue is more formally known as subclinical hypoadrenia.
What are the symptoms?
In the beginning, you may notice that sleep is impacted, whether it is the quality or quantity. These changes to your sleep routine can shift your circadian rhythm if it continues unaddressed for too long and may lead to daytime sleepiness.
As you are chronically 'on' and stimulated, the cofactors involved in cortisol metabolism to help you handle the stress become depleted. This can alter your cognition, weaken your immune system, contribute to chronic inflammation, and could eventually contribute to muscle weakness.
It's important to understand your own 24-hour cortisol measure which typically shows that glucocorticoids, like cortisol, are lowest around midnight and highest in the morning between 6:00 and 8:00am. There's debate on what measure is best for cortisol, but salivary seems superior over serum.
What are the causes?
During a normal physiological to response to stress, the body releases hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) which then cause other symptoms of the normal stress response. These include an elevation in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration to circulate nourishing blood and remove waste products from active tissue.
When the body is chronically activated, theories are that there could be a reduction in the synthesis of different hormones involved in the stress response or potential cortisol resistance. Another theory is that a shift occurs in your circadian rhythm as certain individuals may experience a "second wind" of energy in later parts of the evening when the body is producing the hormones meant to induce sleep.
Who is prone to adrenal fatigue?
Anyone could be at risk of experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue if difficult life situations arise that keep individuals 'on' for an extended period of time. These types of stressors could be significant changes such as a marriage or death of a loved one, or the accumulation of stress on the body such as a poor diet, the abuse of substances such as drugs and alcohol, or chronic illness.
What are the signs of adrenal fatigue?
Throughout all of this, remember to keep an eye out for the following signs and speak to your primary care provider:
- Changes to sleep patterns including waking up unrefreshed, insomnia, or hypersomnia.
- Muscle weakness
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Unexplained changes to weight
- Changes in blood pressure, blood glucose, or electrolytes
What are some easy changes I can make to lifestyle?
- Reduce your commitments and social load – it is okay to say no as this helps you to avoid overstimulation and stretching yourself too thin.
- Engage in hobbies or activities that create flow, and we don't mean the flow of fluid! In psychology, flow can be thought of as being 'in the zone' where you become completely immersed in a task and the external world seems to fade away. Research shows that entering a state of flow can facilitate a state of relaxation and focus neural activity on the creative centres.
- Stay fed! Entering a state of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can increase cortisol levels in the body.
- Make a non-alcoholic beverage choice. Alcohol can interfere with attaining an adequate amount of quality sleep since it inhibits one's ability to enter a state of sleep known as REM (rapid-eye movement) where many of the reparative functions of the body and mind occur. So even though that nightcap may help you get to sleep a little quicker, you won't feel your best in the morning and may be more prone to symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
While running the path of your weekly routine, the amount of sleep you're achieving may suffer. The body needs time to repair, grow, and build without the constant stimulation from the external environment. An herb known as valeriana officinalis has potent abilities to help induce sleep.
In a clinical trial comparing the herb to diazepam, more commonly known as valium, valerian helped increase the power of delta and theta brain waves while valium decrease theta waves and increased beta waves. Theta and delta waves occur when our brain shifts into a more relaxed state with delta waves featured within deep, dreamless sleeps while beta waves are those that occur when humans are awake and alert. This would allow your overstimulated mind and adrenals to turn off and potentially recover enough to make it through the next day without experiencing symptoms.
Another herb to consider is hops (Humulus lupulus) which has been studied, commonly in combination with other herbs such as valerian, for its effects on sleep. It has also been shown to help reduce anxiety, which could further allow the body to cope with daily stressors and reduce the draw on an individual's adrenals.
Deep Sleep is a product that includes these herbs and most importantly, is non-addictive unlike many pharmaceutical sleep aids. In a clinical study of Deep Sleep, 44 patients with insomnia experienced deeper levels of sleep and slept an additional 38 minutes compared to those given a placebo. When it comes to sleep, quality and quantity are important! A 12-hour sleep with no deep sleep cycle can leave you feeling as fatigued and burnt out as you were before your head hit the pillow!