I get asked this a lot in my practice. All too often it’s the body’s reaction to stress and a lack of sleep that cause fatigue. Stress can manifest in various ways for our bodies and brains. It can be mental stress from work or relationship issues, physical stress from eating foods that you struggle to digest or it can be environmental stress, a loud neighbor, a snoring husband or too many lights in your bedroom.
Many of us go to bed too late and wake too early as we spend to much time on our computers, phones, tablets or watch TV right up until we go to bed. The lights that are in our electronics send a message to this tiny gland in our brain, called the pineal gland. This gland is in control of our melatonin release and melatonin is our body’s signaling chemical that tells us it’s time to sleep. When melatonin levels rise, we get sleepy. Melatonin levels rise when it is dark out.
Cortisol rises to wake us up and declines throughout the day to get us ready to go back to sleep. The rise and drop of cortisol is directly related to light as when the brain is exposed to light the pineal gland is activated and stops melatonin production.
The production of cortisol by our adrenal glands, little glands that sit on top of the kidneys, and the production of melatonin by the pineal gland are directly tied in with our circadian rhythms that dictate when we naturally should go to bed and wake up. Cortisol and melatonin regulation are as primal as it gets in the cave person world.
Because of our fast paced, lights always modern, over stimulated environment our cave person brains struggle to regulate when to produce melatonin and when to shut off cortisol.
So if you find that you are staying up late working on the computer, watching TV or on the tablet past your regular bedtime more often you are shifting your body’s production of melatonin so that melatonin stays elevated longer into the morning when you should be getting up and ready for work. Combine the longer elevation of melatonin with stress from work, life or rushing around in the morning and you get elevated cortisol to give you a “wired and tired” feeling or you wake early in the morning jittery and anxious only to feel like you are slugging through a thick fog as soon as you get up and try to start your day.
Then as the day goes on you become more and more tired. When you get home from your day you’re wiped out.
This is not a sign of getting older. This is a sign that your cortisol is too high int he morning, likely spiking your blood sugar too and then dropping it drastically compared to the slow decline that should be happening each day in a person with a normal circadian rhythm.
There are ways to manage this spike and drastic drop. Adaptogenic herbs and formulas to stabilize neurotransmitters are the most effective ways to put your cortisol in check along with dialing in your sleep and wake cycle.
- Set a sleep and wake schedule and stick to it on the weekends – no screen time 2 hours before bed
- Take an herbal adaptogenic (nervous system chilling) formula before bed and first thing in the morning
- If you wake up during the night multiple times – try Sleep Thru – by Gaia Herbs
- If you wake up too early in the morning – try Holy Basil 2 hours before bed and Passion Flower with NeuroCalm by Designs for health each morning to chill out the jitters
- If you have to drink coffee then move your AM coffee to 930-10a to catch the down slope of energy