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Sleep, Stress & Adrenal Fatigue Misconceptions

Understanding Adrenal Fatigue & Solutions

So your stressful life has contributed to sleeping issues? You have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue or all at the very least the symptoms seem to fit. Your energy levels have dropped off significantly over the years and it’s especially problematic during afternoons.

However, there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue. Unless you have Addison's disease, your adrenal glands are working as intended. It’s the signaling upstream that is the problem.

Adrenal glands don’t excessively secrete cortisol to the point where they can’t produce unless damaged. This is the finding by the vast majority of scientific research. So why do adrenal fatigue support formulations work? It’s because the effective formulas are resetting the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) just as the vitamins, minerals and herbs previously mentioned.

Whether we referred to this as Adrenal Fatigue or HPA Axis Dysfunction, the best natural remedies combine:

B-Vitamins, Magnesium, Adaptogenic Herbs, Critical Amino Acids like GABA.

Why is this distinction important? If only your cortisol levels are tested a patient can get a false negative for “adrenal fatigue” or worse. Then the patient is given cortisol that might exacerbate the situation. This is one more reason to always choose well-formulated herbal based supplements rather than synthetic stimulating or suppressing cortisol drugs.

Cortisol plays a critical role in sleep, stress and inflammation. Our cortisol levels should be highest when we first awake so we are alert and then it tapers off quickly. When perceived stress or chronic inflammation occurs, cortisol secretion is initiated. During times of stress it boosts our system in a threatening situation. Where there is chronic inflammation, cortisol reduces the inflammatory response to protect us from the aging process. Unfortunately sleep is interrupted when cortisol is secreted anytime other then early in the day.

There are four triggers causing HPA axis imbalance between these three glands mistakenly referred to as, “adrenal fatigue,” according to Dr. Thomas Guilliams, an expert the field of Molecular Immunology.

  • Perceived Stress
  • Inflammation primarily in the gut caused by small bacteria or candida overgrowth
  • Sugar Dysregulation
  • Circadian Dysregulation
  • While this topic deserves a deeper dive, the important takeaway is that the HPA axis includes a set of neurotransmitters with self-regulating feedback loops. When the body isn’t in balanced, the pathways either no longer result in cortisol secretion or the cells become cortisol insensitive like a diabetic in the presence of too much insulin. This is the body’s system of checks and balances.

    To address the four triggers, incorporate stress-reducing behaviors like mediation, yoga, essential oils and supplements like Zen Calm and Zen Sleep. Begin by reducing inflammation in the gut by eating a healthy diet reducing sugar and eliminating rancid vegetable oils. Try to get outside and take in natural light and stay away from your computer screen late at night.

    Why Sleep Aids Fail


    Getting a good night’s sleep is critical for the body and plays a huge role in reducing aging, especially for the brain. At night the brain literally detoxifies itself during sleep draining the byproducts from the day’s activities. Other parts of the body also go through reparative processes that help maintain organ and tissue health.

    To understand why sleep aids don’t work we have to review some key basic knowledge.

    What Controls Sleep?

    Biochemically speaking, sleep is controlled by a neurotransmitter-like compound called melatonin. Commonly referred to as the, ‘the hormone of darkness,’ it helps regulate circadian rhythms among other things.

    Simply put, serotonin is a precursor for melatonin. The pineal gland converts serotonin to melatonin in the presence of darkness. Think of serotonin and melatonin as two opposite sides of the same coin. Serotonin is created in the presence of light and is referred to as the ‘happiness hormone’. Melatonin needs three basic things to exist; serotonin, the pineal gland to be working properly, and darkness to be most effective.

    Four Main Factors Impact Sleep

    Muscle relaxation
    Mid-brain hyperactivity
    Endocrine balance (hormone suppliers)

    Intestinal health

    The amino acid required for both serotonin and melatonin is tryptophan. While it’s true that some people have a tryptophan deficiency, and increasing intake alone can solve sleep problems, this is by no means a majority of cases. It may initially be beneficial, but quickly fails to improve sleep.

    A Few Bad Actors

    A majority of people suffering from insomnia have the following contributing factors; stress, inflammation, and poor gut health. People also need to consider that sleep studies can determine if sleep apnea contributes to their insomnia.         

    Increased stress levels increase the cortisol levels and decrease B vitamins. Elevated cortisol levels in the morning wakes us up, so this clearly is not going to contribute to a good night’s sleep.

    Inflammation and Gut Health; while these two in combination cause many people to suffer from chronic inflammation, people are unaware that it stems from poor gut health. The typical diet increases candida overgrowth, decreasing healthy bacteria leading to a leaky gut. Once the digestive tract is compromised inflammation begins and the body reacts by secreting cortisol to suppress the inflammation.                                         Again, we are in the presence of elevated cortisol which interrupts sleep. This connection between gut health and sleep is now widely accepted in the scientific community.

    Sleep Aids – Why They Don’t Work

    Finally! … why don’t sleep aids work?
    Sleep aids don’t address the four triggers discussed earlier; muscle relaxation, mid-brain hyperactivity, endocrine imbalance or intestinal health.

    3 Types of Sleep Aids

    Melatonin receptors stimulants such as Rozerem.
    Benzodiazepines target GABA (amino acid reduces anxiety & mid-brain activity) 

                      i.e., Ativan and Restoril.
    Nonbenzodiazepines – also target GABA 
                      i.e., Ambien and Lunesta 

    Important Complications
    Prescription drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) stop serotonin from being reabsorbed.

    In addition to not addressing all the issues, these sleep aids have serious side effects and can become addictive. Even natural melatonin is addictive, a condition of which many people are unaware. Any amount large or small of external melatonin is recognized by the body and triggers the pineal gland to reduce its own melatonin secretion. So that is not a successful path and it creates long-term problems.

    Natural Solution

    Proper exercise, diet, the right amount of exposure to light and darkness plus addressing the four causes of sleep interruption are the best solutions to getting a good night’s sleep. People also need to consider participating in sleep studies to determine if they are suffering from sleep apnea.

    The four biochemical causes of insomnia are covered in our product Zen Sleep and often people find that combining this with Leaky Gut Repair will improve their digestive health to reduce chronic inflammation. More information on leaky gut and how it originates can be found in this article.

    Nutritional Deficiencies

    Food sources that contain melatonin are tart cherries. Other sources that contribute to melatonin creation include bananas, oatmeal and milk. Serotonin boosting foods include the amino acid tryptophan, seafood, dairy, chicken, nuts, seeds and eggs. Recall that the more serotonin in your system the more melatonin potential at night.