Many women remember a time when they could, “do it all.” They stayed up late and woke at the crack of dawn for a two-mile run. After a couple shots of espresso, they commuted to the office or school drop-off to spend long hours in a high-pressure career or busy homemaking.
Miraculously, they still had enough energy to socialize with their friends and pursue any number of exciting hobbies and interests. In a culture focused on constant productivity, they were rewarded with praise for their work ethic and superwoman abilities.
Can you relate?
Over the years, however, has it become harder and harder to keep the pace with a smile on your face? Do you wake up after a full night’s sleep without feeling refreshed? Are you dragging by midafternoon and it is all you can do to make it to bedtime without falling asleep sitting up? How are your blood work and lab results? Is your doctor urging you to get more rest?
“I don’t have time,” you may say, in search of a treatment or supplement to give you the energy to feel “normal” again. If you truly don’t have time to get the rest you need, then the answer is not in taking more stimulants, but it’s in restructuring your life.
Here’s the problem: What you were doing was never normal.
Energy debt is real.
Energy produced on a cellular level in your mitochondria can be affected by any number of factors: Stress, toxins, hormonal imbalances, etc. (Ninety percent of people have exhausted adrenal glands, and many have sluggish thyroid gland activity.)
Like the engine of a car, if your mitochondria aren’t properly maintained (such as with proper rest) they become run down and no longer function efficiently. This results in fatigue, muscle pain, poor concentration, and headaches. Just as a neglected car will eventually break down on the side of the road if the check engine light is ignored, so, too, will your body if you ignore its cries for help.
Sleep is absolutely necessary for healing.
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (which is associated with rest, nurturing and regeneration of body tissues) and detoxification occur primarily at night while the body rests. Mental and emotional processing also occurs during sleep (such as completing thought processes that were interrupted during the day).
There is no substitute for sleep and it is anything but a waste of time. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is finely-tuned and regulated by hormones such as adenosine and melatonin. Cortisol, which is produced by your adrenal glands, goes into overdrive after 11:00 pm if you haven’t fallen asleep, which will further exhaust your body.
This is the biochemical phenomenon we often equate with catching a “second wind” or being a “night owl.”
Also, it’s important to recognize that the hours before midnight have been said to be two to three more times restorative than those after midnight as the energy of the earth shifts into the start of the new day. Do you find that you struggle to wake up in the morning, with your body fighting you every step of the way? Listen to it! Again, there is a biochemical reason for this lethargy.
Sleeping restores your adrenal function.
Your adrenals want to go into rest mode between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00 each morning to allow your cortisol levels to rise, which will help you to wake up feeling rested and refreshed. For a person suffering symptoms of adrenal fatigue, this period of morning rest is especially important, since your cortisol levels may take longer to rise or will not be able to rise as high as those of a healthy person.
“Hitting the snooze multiple times while feeling guilty that you “should” be getting up early to be more productive is NOT healing!”
While it may not always be practical for your daily schedule, any morning you can allow yourself to sleep until 9:00 am without guilt or interruption is one more day that you are helping your adrenals heal from some of the debt they’ve acquired.
What if you have no problem falling asleep, but then wake up on several occasions throughout the night? Most people need 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily and it is possible to break this up into smaller three-to-four-hour periods that reflect normal sleep cycles. If you wake up unexpectedly in the middle of the night, try not to fight it! Your body may be asking for any number of things.
- When you awaken at night, try rubbing your feet and stretching in bed. Get up, go to the bathroom, have a little water, walk around, and then go back to bed.
- If you usually wake between 1:00 and 3:00 AM, your liver may be lacking the glycogen reserves needed for conversion by the adrenals. As your blood glucose levels fall during the night, the symptoms of hypoglycemia may be enough to wake you. This is often the case if you have panic or anxiety attacks, nightmares, or sleep fitfully. The remedy is to have a small snack that contains a protein, unrefined carbohydrate, and high-quality fat before going to bed.
- Finally, because of the hormonal fluctuations throughout the day, you have probably noted specific times when you feel more or less lethargic. Pay attention to these times, which usually occur around 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning and 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Try to schedule your breaks so that when these periods of brain fog occur, you can lie down (or sit down and put your feet up) for 15 to 30 minutes.
REMEMBER: Restful sleep is one of the most healing gifts you can give your mind, body and adrenal glands. The need for sleep is an intense physiological drive and responding to it does not mean that you are lazy, but that you are taking care of one of your body’s most basic (and vital) needs!
Katherine Housh, RN, BSN, HWN-BC
CWC Board Member