A lot of people who have this condition find it difficult to drag themselves out of bed, and even more difficult to find energy to make it through the day. I know, for me personally, some days I would sleep for 10-14 hours, but still feel exhausted!
I later found out that, for me, the reason I didn’t have a lot of energy and felt I needed to sleep all day was due to a condition called “adrenal fatigue.” In adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands (which are the glands that make hormones such as cortisol that gives you energy throughout the day), were completely depleted. My adrenal glands had stopped making adequate amounts of these hormones, and I was left with very little energy. According to Adrenalfatigue.org, this condition can cause “brain fog, cloudy-headedness, and mild depression (3).”
So, how do the adrenal glands become fatigued, and what can be done to heal them?
The adrenal glands are responsible for making the hormones that help you wake up, have energy throughout the day, and fall asleep at night. The adrenal glands are also responsible for the fight-or-flight response and for releasing the hormones that go with this, such as cortisol and adrenaline. So, if you are often stressed, it is quite possible that your adrenal glands are stressed as well. Adrenal fatigue can be caused by a number of things, including: excess stress, lack of sleep, going through an infection or virus that has stressed the body and immune system, a tumor on the pituitary gland (rare but possible), chronic allergies that stress the immune system, an autoimmune disorder, or a hormonal imbalance, among others (1,2,4,5).
In addition, there is an advanced form of adrenal fatigue, called Addison’s disease, where an autoimmune disorder attacks the pituitary gland, therefore causing the adrenal glands to become depleted (4).
Some symptoms of adrenal fatigue or Addison’s disease are (1,2,4,5):
__chronic, or long lasting, fatigue __muscle weakness or aches __dizziness __depression __irritability
__abdominal pain __muscle or joint pain __headaches __sweating
__loss of appetite __weight loss __nausea __vomiting __diarrhea __craving salty foods __dehydration __low blood pressure that drops further when a person stands up, causing dizziness or fainting __hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
__irregular or absent menstrual periods __in women, body hair loss or loss of interest in sex
Symptoms of adrenal crisis include:
sudden, severe pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs
severe vomiting and diarrhea
low blood pressure; fainting
loss of consciousness
Acute adrenal failure:
Sometimes, however, the signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease may appear suddenly. In acute adrenal failure (addisonian crisis), the signs and symptoms may also include (4):
Pain in your lower back, abdomen or legs
Severe vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration
Low blood pressure
Loss of consciousness
High potassium (hyperkalemia) and low sodium (hyponatremia)
Dark skin (Addison’s disease only)
Bluish-black color around the nipples, mouth, rectum, scrotum, or vagina (Addison’s disease only)
Here are some good sites with more information about adrenal fatigue:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx#cause
University of Rochester Medical Center: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=p00397
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/addisons-disease/home/ovc-20155636
Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/causes/
***If any of these symptoms resonate with you, please visit your doctor and have a conversation with him or her about your symptoms. It is very important to talk to a medical professional about your symptoms and receive a proper diagnosis, as you could have something different from adrenal fatigue that calls for completely different treatment, such as anemia (or low iron levels), a thyroid imbalance, or another condition altogether. That is why you must seek professional help to receive a correct diagnosis and to get the right treatment, so you can start to feel better as soon as possible.***
*Here’s a free PDF you can take to your Dr.’s office to help you talk to him or her about this condition, get tested, and start receiving treatment!
For me personally, after I was diagnosed, I started changing my daily habits to help support my adrenal glands and bring them back into balance. In fact, within a few weeks, I found I had a lot more energy throughout the day, and within a couple months, I was able to sleep for 6-8 hours and wake up feeling refreshed!
What did I do? *Well, like anything else, this worked for me, but make sure you talk to a medical professional to see what will work best for your circumstance.* Here are some habits that I implemented into my schedule that helped me feel better and have more energy:
1.) Starting a sleep schedule and sticking to it.
It is important to try to fall asleep by 10, but no later than 11. After 11, our bodies will release another shot of cortisol into our systems to help us stay awake (that’s why some people will feel tired earlier in the day by not be able to fall asleep at night), and this taxes the adrenal glands.
When you do not get adequate sleep, your adrenal glands make hormones to help keep you awake through the night, but this taxes your adrenal system and can eventually cause adrenal fatigue.
Only sleep for 7.5-8 hours a night, but be careful not to go over, because excess sleep can make you feel more lethargic throughout the day. For me, the magic number is 7.5 hours, since one complete sleep cycle is 90 minutes, so this lets you get 5 complete sleep cycles and wake up at the end of the last cycle, which will have you waking up more refreshed. Sleep cycle info: (https://lifehacker.com/remember-the-90-minute-rule-to-ensure-a-refreshing-nigh-1551241082
Before going to bed, it is best to avoid bright light, especially the light from computer screens or other electronics, as those will prevent your body from producing melatonin before bedtime, making your sleep time less restful when you wake up. I’ve heard different opinions on when these devices should be turned off — some studies say 1-2 hours before bed, but I also know people who don’t use technology 4 hours before they go to sleep. For me, I think 2 hours is a good amount of time to let my body unwind before bed without checking my phone or computer, but this can vary from person to person, so I’d say try different things and see what works for you. (For me, since I started following a regular sleep schedule, I’ve found that I am able to get around 7.5 hours (and sometimes even 6 hours on rare occasions) of sleep and still wake up feeling refreshed.
This new sleep schedule might take a couple weeks to take effect since you are resetting your body’s circadian rhythm, so I’d say don’t give up, stick to it and you’ll eventually see really good improvements in your quality of sleep. Trust me, it will be worth it when you finally start to feel more energized!
2.) Lower stress and eat healthy.
It’s sometimes difficult to lower stress, but it’s important to incorporate some type of enjoyable activity or stress relief into your daily routine. Stress activates the fight-or-flight response, which will severely deplete the adrenal glands if sustained over a long period. So, the more you can find time to exercise, or breathe deeply, or do anything else that will help your stress levels, this will greatly help heal your adrenal glands. Also, drinking lots of water and including fruits, vegetables, healthy sources of protein, etc. into your diet does wonders to help your body heal itself and find balance.
Here is a good site to help you find which stress-reduction method is best for you:
3.) Exercise in moderation.
The key here is moderation. If you are currently not exercising on a weekly basis, then adding in some light exercise a couple times a week will benefit your adrenal system.
However, there is also such a thing as over-exercising, and this can greatly tax your adrenal glands. If you spend every day in the gym, or exercise for more than a few hours at a time, it is possible that your adrenal glands may become over-exerted from all of this physical activity. (I’m a dancer, and at one point, I was practicing for over 20 hours a week, which I later found out was too much for my body to handle.)
The number of hours per week of excess exercise will be different for every person, depending on their age and fitness level. As every person is different, only a recommendation from your doctor can be trusted in regards to questions about your optimal health. I’d recommend listening to your body and keeping a close eye on how your current level of exercise is affecting your energy levels, and also getting a second opinion from a professional.
Other helpful tips for falling and staying asleep all night:
– First, the thing that helped the most was to avoid all sources of light throughout the night. I would cover my windows so the sunlight couldn’t get in, since it would often be light outside by 5 AM and I would wake up. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I noticed if I turned on the bathroom light, or even a nightlight, it would wake me up and I found it hard to go back to sleep. I’d say, make it as dark in your room as possible, and even cover your clock and electronics’ lights, since any amount of light at night will affect your brain’s ability to produce melatonin and keep you asleep for longer.
– Also, something that kept me up at night that helped drastically when I fixed it was making sure I wasn’t dehydrated before going to bed. I noticed that, if I hadn’t consumed enough water throughout the day, I could initially fall asleep, but my body would wake up around 3:30-5 AM parched. After I started drinking water throughout the day, this lessened. (I make sure to get most of my water in throughout the entire day and not drink too much water 2 hours before bed so I won’t need to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom — I’d say as long as you get your daily water in during the day, this should help you sleep better.)
– Next, it could be something as simple as the temperature of the room. When my room is too hot, I find it difficult to go back to sleep after waking up.
– Last, I noticed that, when I exercise during the day, I almost always sleep better than when I do not. I don’t do anything too strenuous — just 20 minutes of cardio and some strength training, and I’ll have a deeper sleep. However, for me, if I exercise after 6 pm, it has the opposite effect and gives me energy at night and I find it almost impossible to go to sleep. When planning exercise times, I’d recommend the earlier the better, but starting at 5 PM at the latest and finishing by 6 PM has been the latest time I can personally exercise, without it having the opposite effect and keeping me awake. Consult your physician with any questions about exercise, as he or she can give you a professional, personalized recommendation.
(1) Berry, J., PhD, APRN, & Foster, S., RN, MPH. (2016). Adrenal Insufficiency/Addison’s Disease. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85
(2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, May 14). Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Causes. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/causes/
(3) Cortisol & Adrenal Function. (2015). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from https://www.adrenalfatigue.org/cortisol-adrenal-function
(4) Loechner, K., M.D., Ph.D., & Stratakis, C., M.D., D,. (2014, May). Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison’s Disease. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx#symptoms
(5) Mayo Clinic. (2015, November/December). Addison’s disease. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/addisons-disease/symptoms-causes/dxc-20155757