How I’m Healing My Adrenals: Sleep Rhythm Edition (Part 2 of 5)
- Published on: 23 June, 2018
- Last update: 23 June, 2018
I am ecstatic to be able to share everything I’m doing in order to heal “adrenal fatigue” (aka HPA axis dysregulation), especially after so many of you resonated with my first post of this series which explains the true root causes of adrenal symptoms. If you haven’t read it yet, start here: The Truth About Adrenal Fatigue.
I’m breaking up my adrenal fatigue recovery posts into separate sections of: a) sleep rhythm, b) deep sleep aides, c) food/supplements, and d) exercise so that it’s not overwhelming and I can fully expand on each topic. At the end, I’ll consolidate them into one big blog post so that you have a complete “recovery guide” all in one place!
SLEEP: YOU CAN’T HEAL WITHOUT IT.
Sleep is the #1 most important area to address when your adrenals are stressed. Those with adrenal issues have trouble getting to sleep, trouble staying in a deep sleep, and/or don’t wake up feeling refreshed. Your zZz’s may be very light or easily disturbed, and one of my symptoms was having to pee 386289756 times before bed and in the middle of sleep.
This is because we’ve been in fight or flight mode for too long and can’t turn it off. The body’s Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA axis) is dysregulated – usually overactivated and needs help calming down even if we’re exhausted (“wired but tired”). The HPA axis communicates with the immune system as well, so this overactivation can easily play a role in autoimmune conditions. Better sleep + HPA axis regulation = the better your autoimmune symptoms too! Likewise, anything that helps autoimmune symptoms (such as healing leaky gut and identifying food allergies to lower gut inflammation) will in turn support deep sleep and normalize the HPA axis.
1. RESET YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
….Because it’s easiest to get tired and fall into a deep sleep when you are in harmony with the environment’s photoperiod aka light/dark cycle.
This is the very first step I took, and the best part is, it’s free! Going to bed early isn’t fun, so this took discipline. But once you get past the hump, you will naturally crave sleeping before 10 (in fact, you won’t be able to keep your eyes open!) I stopped using screens, including TV, past 7:30pm as they are extremely stimulating and the blue light blocks melatonin production. To fill the time I listened to music, audiobooks or podcasts, sang, read books or meal prepped and tidied up.
I made sure I was physically in bed at 9:30pm with an aim to fall asleep before 10. I had to take melatonin 3 times the first week to force my body to sleep because I was so wired! I don’t recommend using melatonin longer than a few days. However in the beginning, when you take it at the time you want to retrain your brain to fall asleep, it can help readjust your internal clock. I then set an alarm for dawn and made sure I woke up early with the sun, which is important for my next tip! Some days I couldn’t wake up with the sunrise because I was so exhausted and my adrenals needed more rest. Always listen to your body and if you need that extra hour or two, take it. At first I watched the sunrise as many times per week as I could (3-4), but as I’ve gotten stronger it’s now 5 or 6! That magical hour before everyone is up is extremely calming, healing, and resets your hormones. Waking up at this time puts you in alignment with nature’s clock and prompts your body to make cortisol in the early MORNING when it should. This is how I’m fixing my “inverted” circadian rhythm where I was very slow to release cortisol in the morning but got a “second wind” at 9pm.
When you wake up and get moving early, your hormones will follow. I’m glad to say I’m starting to wake up with energy and motivation, and no longer feel human for the first time at night!
2. PHYSICALLY WATCH THE SUNRISE + SUNSET
This made resetting my circadian rhythm 100x easier. Watching the sunrise and sunset with your own two eyes sends waking + sleeping signals to your brain so that half the work is already done for you.
When you’re on vacation at the beach all day, staying somewhere tropical with less artificial light, don’t you get into the best sleep cycle? Our ancestors would have been outside all the time, and as kids we played outdoors until the sun went down which naturally tired us out and helped us live in alignment with the photoperiod.
Your eyes need to see the light to make the right hormones!
Besides resetting your internal clock, early morning light influences the hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism. A small study out of Northwestern University showed that early morning sun exposure may actually be linked to a slimmer, healthier body. According to this study’s findings, people who got most of their sun exposure in the wee morning hours had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than people who got later morning or afternoon light. Plus, more morning sunshine means more melatonin production at night; it’s directly connected!
One of my favorite people to follow is @courtneyhuntmd who writes that if she had to choose one supplement for all her patients, it would be watching the sunrise. “It controls everything from a quantum perspective and it’s free. Every day you miss it is a day closer to sickness.” She says that it also exposes us to a unique form of infrared light thanks to the sun coming over the horizon.
3. FOOD ALLERGIES & GUT INFLAMMATION CAN KEEP YOU AWAKE
Like I said, an overactive HPA axis can also overactivate your immune system. This means your body may experience inflammation/food intolerances to perfectly healthy foods, especially if leaky gut is a factor. I embarked on the Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP) to calm down my immune system, ameliorate gut inflammation, and to serve as an “elimination diet” so I could identify my individual food triggers.
AIP cuts out every major food allergen for a set period of time, then reintroduces them slowly one by one. A week into this, I had the best sleep of my life. My friend tried to wake me up one night by physically shaking me and I didn’t budge haha!
That means for me, food sensitivity (and thus gut inflammation) was affecting my sleep and my brain by causing brain fog and anxiety. Cutting out every allergen possible as an experiment showed me how good I could feel and allowed me to pinpoint how every reintroduction either supported that baseline OR negatively affected it. I already knew I was sensitive to gluten and dairy, but discovered I also couldn’t sleep and got an itchy scalp after consuming nightshades (especially tomatoes) which I was eating daily! I’m still reintroducing and found I’m also sensitive to corn, cashews & peanuts. I am now continuing to eat low carb modified AIP with my successful reintroductions, because it visibly lowers inflammation in my body and makes me feel my best.
If you don’t eat this way, that’s totally cool and you can absolutely heal. I would suggest doing an elimination diet that fits with your dietary preferences (this one has excellent modifications for vegans/vegetarians), then switching to whatever way of eating lowers YOUR inflammation the most. We are all different when it comes to this with different ancestry, insulin sensitivity, carbohydrate tolerance, etc. The goal is to simply lower body-wide and gut inflammation via diet so that the adrenals can calm down and heal.
PART 3 COMING SOON…
Part 3 of 5 will be about deep sleep aides, including my favorite blue blocking glasses and one of my brand new herbal formulas that I’m launching next month! Although I started going to sleep early, I wasn’t always *staying* asleep and had the pesky disturbance of having to pee all the time. I’m so grateful for this experience (and my herbalism teachers) because it led me to making a sleep formula that not only put me in the deepest sleep of my life but also finally stopped the constant pee signals when my body was so wired that it thought it was daytime! These herbs also help reset your circadian rhythm, reduce stress, and calm a frazzled, racing mind before bed. I cannot wait to share this and the rest of the formulas with you. xoxo