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  • Linnette Johnson

Why Sleep? Your Adrenals Need a Break

You've heard of the “fight or flight” syndrome, right? Accompanied by the image of the saber-toothed tiger dashing after a hunter, getting ready to attack. You often get into this situation, don’t you? In modern times, we’re not literally in that frantic position, but our bodies often react as if we were fighting for our lives. Our adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, are forced to work overtime to deal with stress from all sources: injury, disease, work, family, finances, environment, etc.

It’s hard to imagine these small endocrine glands, essentially the size of a walnut, responsible for manufacturing and secretion vital hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone. Cortisol production is crucial for the body to combat stress. Whereas thousands of years ago stress was a finite amount of time – you either outran the predator or survived or you were eaten – nowadays, stress seems to be a state of being for so many people.

Although not getting along with a boss or missing a bill payment are not life-threatening like the saber-toothed tiger, our bodies similarly react to stressors. The body starts to feel unsettled. More and more cortisol is produced because the body believes it needs massive amounts of energy to run for its life. This happens over and over again throughout the day: getting the kids ready for school and getting yourself ready for work, traffic, spilling coffee on your new suit, your assistant calls in sick, and you’ve got to send out 20 packages today, the babysitter is late picking up the kids from school and taking them to soccer practice, your late afternoon meeting runs over, and you leave the office late, so family dinner becomes you eating leftovers alone. And all this is going to happen again tomorrow!

Here’s the problem: chronic stress can overload the adrenal glands to exhaustion. For some, the fatigue will become overwhelming, and the adrenals will no longer function properly to provide the energy and resources the body needs daily. When someone is exhausted, a natural suggestion is to get more sleep. That’s not always easy with adrenal problems because insomnia is a common symptom. There are steps you can take to prepare yourself for sleep, which is undoubtedly one of the best ways to refresh and rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit.

For better sleep and to heal your adrenal glands:

  1. Go to bed at the same time every night, between 10-10:30 pm, and get up at the same time every day.

  2. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine, alcohol, caffeine (even chocolate), and sugar in the late afternoon/evening.

  3. Keep a gratitude journal near your bedside. Every night, list five things for which you are grateful. Remind yourself that even though you may feel fatigued, there are wonderful aspects of your life and many reasons to heal.

  4. Bedtime attire should be comfortable and relaxed. Your attire can signal your brain that it is time to prepare for bed.

  5. Assess the quality and comfort of where you will sleep. Specifically, look at the type and age of the mattress and pillow. As they wear out, your sleeping position may be impacted. If you find you are uncomfortable, it may be time to replace some items if you can. 

  6. The ideal sleeping temperature is 60‐67 degrees Fahrenheit. If this doesn’t work for you, experiment until you find your ideal temperature, which is neither too hot nor too cold.

  7. Remove all blue‐light device exposure approximately two hours before sleeping. This includes television, smartphones or tablet, and computers. The light can interfere with the natural melatonin cycles. If sleeping with a partner using a device like this, put on a mask to block the light. 

  8. If possible, reduce noise as best as possible; if you can't, use earplugs if necessary. If you are accustomed to some noise to help you fall asleep, do not rely on the television. Instead, look towards white noise machines, which can be set on timers. 

  9. Avoid doing non‐sleeping activities, such as working, in your bedroom. Let your mind associate the room with sleeping or intimacy-related activities only.

  10. Avoid instances that increase the body’s stress response, such as personal triggers which may ignite the stress response. These might include upsetting discussions or a review of upsetting materials.

  11. Engage in soothing/relaxing activities to alleviate stress and promote relaxation before bed. This may include taking a bath, reading a book, or practicing meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. If needing a sleeping meditation, consult the Insight Timer app, where you can find “sleep” meditations of varying lengths.

  12. Prescription drugs can cause insomnia.

  13. Napping too long may disturb your usual sleep and waking patterns. If napping is necessary, try to reduce the length to no more than 30 minutes.

  14. Exercising too closely to bed may also cause problems falling asleep. 

  15. Large food consumption too close to sleep may impact your ability to sleep. Generally, it is advised to stop eating about 2‐3 hours before bedtime.

  16. Additionally, to support the body's natural cortisol rhythms, it is recommended that you gradually increase your carbohydrate servings throughout the day as follows:

Breakfast‐ 1 protein, 1 fat and 1 carb (berries would be a good source)

Lunch‐ 1 protein, 1 fat and 2 carbs

Dinner‐ 1 protein, 1 fat and 3 carbs


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