I was going through a free fall and just as I hit the ground, I braced my legs for the impact. Then, my heart pounds, I am wide awake and covered in cold sweat. That was a nightmare. I check the clock, it’s 4 AM. Damn!
That has been happening every day for the entire week. I would be so wired I couldn’t go back to sleep, and then the day to follow would be pooped. Because I didn’t get enough sleep, I would be constantly ravenous and exhausted. It’s my deadline week when I needed my peak performance, but it ain’t happening.
Adrenal fatique can take years until it gets to the point when we really notice it. Over time, the HPA axis (HPA or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) just can’t respond as effectively to stress, or do any other tons of functions it is made to do as well as it should. This is typically called Adrenal Fatique. At night time, when we don’t eat, the HPA axis functions to maintain blood sugar by releasing cortisol. If the HPA doesn’t release cortisol, then adrenaline rushes in to kick the blood sugar back up. That explains why I wake up with the adrenaline rush -racing heart beat and anxiety. Thus, waking up in the middle of the night is one such symptom of adrenal fatique, and it makes everything worse.
Symptoms of adrenal fatique (this is by no means an exhaustive list)
- waking up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep
- perpetual fatique
- brain fog
- being tired all day but awake and clear at night
- reduced ability to deal with acute stress
- skin problems
- mental health problems or mood issues
- insulin resistance, or eventually diabetes
- unexpected weight loss or gain
- major changes in appetite
- poor recovery from exercise or muscle aches
- poor immune system i.e. frequent infections or slow wound healing
Stress management tips
- Respond to stress physically: Our bodies are meant to respond physically to physical stress (like running from a lion chasing us). It’s almost always better to let go of your stress through movement rather than to “store” the stress. But by that I don’t mean exercise, although exercise is great, too. I mean, throw a rock, slam a ball with that stress and frustration if you will. In fact, I remember visiting a graduate school and saw a dartboard in their library, with exam papers pinned to it. Brilliant!
- Integrate calming and restorative activities into your life –i.e. meditation, yoga, tai chi. It makes you a lot more resilient to stress. Even 3 min of meditation goes a long way in increasing stress resilience.
- Stress response routine: Learn things that help you calm your nerves down to respond to stress such as belly-deep breathing, visualization, counting and emotional freedom technique
- Minimize other sources of stress on your body. That means, eat good foods with lots of vegetables and plenty of proteins and some good fats. Don’t mess up your blood sugar by eating sugar and refined carbs. Don’t drastically cut calories. Don’t over-exercise. It’s also better to increase overall rest and relaxation.
- Nutrients that help you deal with stress – Vitamin C (take grams of it), Magnesium, Vitamin B complex, Sodium/Potassium, Omega-3
- Adaptogenic herbs are often very helpful. (Please consult a qualified practitioner to decide type and dosage as herbs do have side effects, may interact with medications or existing medical conditions.)
Here’s what to do if you keep waking up half way into the night:
- Control your blood sugar. First, eat a big ass breakfast with proteins and fat, not bread and coffee. Second, always adding some good quality protein, veggies and/or fat to your carby meals. Third, don’t rely on coffee, sugar and other stimulants to get through the day, or try to go to milder forms of caffeine if you have been pounding the java.
- I have had success getting back to sleep with 250 mg Theanine and passionflower tea. Chamomile and valerian can also do similar thing to passion flower.
- Eat a small amount of protein (ex. meat, cheese, tofu, legumes, nuts) and slow carb (ex. beans, vegetables, sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat) before you go to sleep.
- Sleep Hygiene. Minimize electronics in your bedroom and sleep away from gadgets. Give your body a little break to relax (without any contact with gadgets whatsoever) at least 30 min before your sleep time. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark.
Do you wake up at 4 AM? or does your stress manifest itself in other ways?
Are you a stressbuster ninja? Let me know in the comment below.