Adrenal Glands and How It Impacts Sleep

So a lot of people have stress, and a lot of people have sleep problems. We're going to talk about one mechanism that is very, very commonly involved with that. Adrenals, what did they do?

Well, your adrenal gland sits on top of the kidney, right about in here but in the back, it is the gland that responds to stress. So when your brain detects that there's something urgent that we have to defend ourselves or deal with, then it signals to the adrenals to increase hormones for energy production, so that we have more energy available to deal with that.

The short-term energy comes from two things, from adrenaline that increases blood pressure, heart rate, vasoconstriction.

 The second one is from cortisol, which is also a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland that raises blood sugar because if we need fast energy, blood sugar is the fastest way to get that for an emergency situation.

The other thing to understand when it comes to sleep, as cortisol relates to sleep, is that the sleep hormone is called melatonin.

It is released, it's secreted by your pineal gland, which sits right about in the middle of your head right there. It's a tiny, tiny little thing like a tip of your pinky finger. It's very important because melatonin is what allows you to go to sleep, it regulates your sleep cycle.

Cortisol and melatonin are directly opposed to each other. Meaning, cortisol will turn off melatonin and vice versa, but cortisol is always going to have the upper hand because it responds to stress. Whenever we have stress, then there is no time, there is no second option to delay. Whenever we have stress, we have to act on it because if we don't, we might not get a second chance.

So cortisol helps regulate your blood sugar and it does that during the night also. So, cortisol is supposed to be the lowest when you go to sleep, because presumably, you have fed yourself during the day so your blood sugar is high, and your cortisol is low because it's not needed to produce blood sugar, and because cortisol is low, it allows your melatonin to be high and puts you to sleep. Then during the night, your blood sugar drops because you're not eating, and now the body has to create blood sugar from other sources, and cortisol is the signaling molecule that does that.

So cortisol is going to rise through the night until you get ready to wake up in the morning. Then, it's going to be at its highest because it's maintained blood sugar through the night. The longer you go without eating, the more cortisol is needed to bring that blood sugar up.

hen when you wake up in the morning, cortisol is at its highest which means, it opposes this melatonin the most. So your melatonin is the lowest and you wake up. Beautiful system.

Then during the day, when you have opportunities to feed yourself, the cortisol is supposed to decline. It's supposed to drop during the day and then until it's at its lowest level around bedtime, and the cycle starts all over.

The problem now is that we don't have stable blood sugar anymore in our society, because we have introduced too many refined foods, too much sugar, too many carbohydrates, grains and pasta, and all those things that stimulate the trigger blood sugar.

When our blood sugar is high, then we trigger a lot of insulin, so blood sugar comes crashing down, and it overshoots and we create these roller coasters of blood sugar. Whenever it's at a low, whenever we have a valley, that's called hypoglycemia, and guess what?

Now, the body releases cortisol because your blood sugar is low and whenever it's low, that's an emergency, it's really important, it's stress. So as long as we have the ability to feed ourselves during the day and if we eat the right things, then our blood sugar is going to be stable.

So cortisol is not really supposed to be much of an issue during the day as far as regulating blood sugar. When we create a blood sugar roller coaster, we get these episodes of hypoglycemia, where we don't have enough blood sugar, and the body has to release cortisol.

The more that happens during the day throughout the day, the more we fatigue the adrenal gland. It's like a horse that it's pulling the plow in the field and it's getting really tired. We need to give it some rest but we get these important things to get through, so we just keep whipping the horse until it's just totally fatigued. That's what we're doing to the adrenals as well when we keep demanding cortisol during the day.

So the more fatigued the adrenals are, and the more we invoke cortisol during the day, the more irregular our cortisol rhythms are going to be. So if we have unstable blood sugar, so that blood sugar really starts crashing throughout the night, now, the body has to do a burst of cortisol during the night, and it turns off the melatonin and we wake up. So a lot of people wake up in the middle of the night because of blood sugar imbalances. The other factor, of course, is when the cortisol starts becoming unregulated, then this curve that is supposed to be nice and predictable starts becoming very random and haphazard. Any time that we get a blood sugar drop and a cortisol spike, we tend to wake up.

The long-term solution, of course, is to stabilize blood sugar, stop eating refined, foods, and processed foods, and sugar, and grain, and pasta and doughnuts, and all those things because that's what sets up this vicious cycle in the first place.

Then, once you eat real food and you have some stable blood sugar, then it's a great idea to start doing some relaxation practice. 

From speaker Dr. Sten Ekberg



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