Our prehistoric ancestors had lots of stressors to deal with – from the daily challenge of getting enough food to the pressure of avoiding man-eating tigers and huge dinosaurs. They often had to fight or flee just to survive. Their adrenal glands would pump out stress hormones to get their hearts racing and legs moving so they could get out of danger. Once the danger was gone, they could relax.
For many people, today, the danger is never really gone. Their adrenal glands are constantly pumping out stress hormones that get the body ready to fight or flee. Only, the stressors now aren’t lions, tigers and dinosaurs. They’re bills, bosses and bad relationships – just to name a few things that cause people to lose sleep. Sleep just so happens to be crucial to recovery from stress. The quality of a person’s sleep is actually a good barometer of their body’s capacity to deal with stress.
The most stressful part of a person’s typical day should be getting out of bed in the morning. Really! That is when cortisol – our main stress hormone – should be at its highest. It is responsible for getting us ready to meet the new day. As that day goes on, a healthy cortisol level should drop sharply. By bedtime, it should be much lower than in the morning. Many people have cortisol patterns that are just the opposite – high at night and low in the morning.
These people typically complain of being tired when they wake up in the morning. They drag themselves out of bed and don’t feel fully awake until that second or third cup of coffee. That caffeine is just a quick fix that just speeds the struggling adrenal glands further along toward their ultimate fatigue. Often, these people are wound up and tense at night, not able to get to sleep until late in the night.
Others are even worse off. They have chronically low cortisol levels. Not only do these people have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, they are always tired. These poor people are stressed out – literally.
Their adrenal glands are running on fumes. After years of prolonged, chronic adrenal activation, they have reached the final destination of the stress express – adrenal fatigue. People at this point are simply less able to mount a healthy response to stress. Yet, as debilitated as they are, many will not be adequately treated by conventionally oriented physicians. These doctors don’t accept the validity of a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue.
They only recognize Addison’s disease – a severe hypo-functioning of the adrenal glands that is typically the result of injury or tuberculosis infection. People with Addison’s disease, like the late President John F. Kennedy, usually require life-long hormone replacement. Yet, people with adrenal fatigue typically benefit greatly from short-term, low-dose hormone replacement, nutritional support and the use of stress relieving herbs called adaptogens.