You may have heard the term “adrenal fatigue” or “adrenal burnout.”
These terms are meant to describe a physiological situation in which the systems designed to help us respond and deal with stress become compromised. The adrenal glands, which sit atop our kidneys, secrete a hormone called cortisol when we are experiencing any form of stress. Cortisol helps shift things physiologically (such as suppressing digestion, fertility and blood circulation and turning on fight, flight and flee mechanisms) to that we can “survive” the stress at hand. This is an incredible system for us surviving acute stressful situations. However, chronic stress over time is not conducive to long-term health. When cortisol is chronically high, or even chronically low (which can happen after too much output over too long of a time) we suffer for it.
Possible symptoms of adrenal fatigue, or what is more accurately termed hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) dysfunction, can mimic other symptoms of chronic illness. HPA dysfunction, turns out is not simply about fatigued adrenals, but about a delicate interplay of hormones and feedback systems within the brain that becomes maladaptive. It is highly recommended to work with a skilled practitioner and get accurate testing done in order to identify any issues with your HPA axis. However, it can be reasonably assumed that if you suffer from any kind of chronic illness, addressing the health and functioning of your HPA axis is a critical must for regaining your health.
In addition to testing, if you suffer from any of the following, it may indicate as well an HPA dysfunction:
You may find this resource on HPA dysfunction helpful for exploring the above in more depth.)
There are multiple causes for HPA dysfunction and some of those we have control over and others we do not. One huge factor is disrupted circadian rhythms, and disrupted sleep. Therefore, a powerful step one can take to address HPA dysfunction and begin reducing symptoms is to start prioritizing sleep by getting enough sleep and getting good quality sleep.
Lets look at some ways you can start to make small changes that will have big impacts on your quality of sleep, which in turn will support your overall health.
(Read more about healthy sleep and why it is important here.)
Not only can adequate sleep help resolve any dysfunction in your HPA (your stress response) but it can also be restorative in areas you wouldn’t think about.
When our bodies perceive chronic stress and have a lowered resilience to stress (due to HPA dysfunction) it will shut down, or limit its resources in areas of the body not necessary for immediate survival. This includes the digestive system, reproductive system, and detox systems. Circulation of life giving blood gets limited and rationed. Getting enough quality sleep, regularly, can not only provide you with more energy and brain function during the day but can also improve your ability to absorb essential vitamins and nutrients (which in turn help you look and feel your best), can increase your libido and nourish your intimate relationships (good sex is good for you!), and also supports you getting out toxins which we are exposed to every single day (additives in foods, chemicals in our buildings, furniture, water and air). All in all, supporting our critical need for sleep lays a powerfully strong foundation for health and wellness that will positively inform the quality of your life.