Are You Too Tired to Sleep? Adrenal Exhaustion and Insomnia
by Steven Horne, RH(AHG)
Have you ever been so tired that you couldn’t sleep? It sounds like a paradox, but the body need energy to be able to relax and fall asleep and when energy levels are too low, sleep is disturbed.
Most parents have seen this happen with their children. The children get so tired and agitated that they won’t go to bed, but when you finally have a confrontation they drop from exhaustion. They were tired, but their stress level was too high to allow them to fall asleep.
In adults, this state of nervous fatigue is usually brought on by a bout of chronic, unremitting stress, which results in adrenal exhaustion. This state is characterized by fatigue during the day coupled by restless and disturbed sleep. Unlike the agitated child, however, the adult suffering from adrenal exhaustion doesn’t have problems falling asleep; they have problems staying asleep.
This kind of insomnia really compounds a person’s stress level because they know they are tired, they know they need sleep, but they just aren’t able to get the deep sleep they need. This creates more fatigue, greater stress and continued sleep disturbance. It’s a vicious cycle that must be broken to begin the healing process.
Energy Storage and Discharge
To understand this problem better, we need to start by understanding how energy works in the body, and one of the best analogies is a rechargeable battery. When a battery is being recharged, it is building up a store of electrical energy. When a battery is working, it is discharging this stored energy to run a computer, camera, cell phone or other device.
Like the battery, the body stores energy and then discharges it in work and activity. Energy is stored when we relax, rest and sleep. Energy is discharged when we work and play. When we think of having more energy, we generally associate it with expending or discharging more energy, not with storing more energy, and that’s where we develop problems.
When people feel tired and want to continue to push themselves, they reach for stimulants, like caffeine and refined sugar. The temporary energy boost a person feels from using stimulants isn’t a sign that the stimulants gave us energy. They didn’t! Instead, they caused us to dig deeper into the body’s energy reserves. So, the stimulation didn’t create (or store) more energy —it simply caused us to discharge more energy. Over time, our biological “batteries” start to become permanently drained so there is no reserve power left.
We can turn again to our analogy of a battery to understand this. With repeated use, rechargeable batteries can reach a point where they no longer hold an energy charge. (I’m acutely aware of this fact, having replaced many dead (and very expensive) laptop batteries. That’s what it’s like when your adrenals get exhausted and you start suffering from nervous exhaustion. Your body is so depleted that it can’t store enough energy to keep you going. You’re constantly running on depleted biological batteries.
Rest and Relaxation Recharge Your Batteries
Right now, take note of how relaxed or tense your body is. Tension is a sign of fatigue, while relaxation is a sign of good energy reserves. Here’s why:
Your muscles expend energy when they contract. When you’re physically working, you are contracting muscles. In order to relax again, the muscle must rebuild an energy charge. When the energy of a muscle becomes too depleted, it cramps. It can’t return to the relaxed (energetically-charged) state because it’s too nutritionally depleted.
This means that when someone is really tense, nervous, high strung and running around like the proverbial headless chicken, they’re really exhausted. It is the relaxed person, whose body is holding onto a high energy charge. They are not discharging as much energy, but they have a more fully charged biological battery.
When you’re so exhausted you can’t sleep, it’s because your internal battery has become so drained it has lost its storage capacity. It can’t hold an energy charge anymore, which is why you’re both tired and unable to relax. The ability to relax and the ability to feel energized go hand in hand.
Stretch and Increase Your Magnesium
In order to rebuild your energy when you’re suffering from nervous fatigue or adrenal exhaustion, you’ve got to help your body relax so it can increase it’s energy storage capacity. One way of doing this is to do tai chi, yoga or simple stretching exercises to elongate your muscles. This immediately increases your body’s capacity to store energy.
You’ll probably also want to supplement your diet with more magnesium. Next to Vitamin D3 deficiency, magnesium is the most common nutrient deficiency in North America. About 70% of the population is magnesium deficient.
Muscles exchange calcium and magnesium ions as they expand and contract. Calcium aids contraction and magnesium aids relaxation. Magnesium is also needed in the mitochondria of the cells for energy production.
When you’re deficient in magnesium, you can’t relax and you can’t rebuild energy. Little things get on your nerves easily and you are more sensitive to noises like dripping faucets, ticking clocks and other small sounds you would normally filter out.
I find that 800 to 1,000 milligrams (4-5 capsules) of Magnesium Complex is what most people need to start getting their tense, exhausted body to start relaxing. This is assuming that they aren’t taking any calcium. If they are, then they may need even more magnesium.
A small amount of calcium can be taken when one is tense and exhausted, but this should be taken at bedtime. Liquid Calcium, in particular, helps calm the nerves and can promote sleep when taken before bed. Liquid Calcium contains some magnesium, but you want to make sure that you’re taking at least twice the amount of magnesium with any calcium your are taking.
Nervous Fatigue Formula
When it comes to correcting insomnia caused by chronic stress and adrenal exhaustion, nothing beats Nervous Fatigue Formula. This blend of Chinese herbs is for deficient “fire” in the body, a similar metaphor to the idea of being “burned-out.”
Specifically, Nervous Fatigue Formula treats yin deficiency in the heart. Yang energy is the manifest energy, the energy we discharge. Yin energy is the body’s energy stores or reserves. When yin energy is depleted we lack an internal energy charge, making us tired and agitated at the same time.
There are several very specific signs I look for that indicate a person needs Nervous Fatigue Formula. First is the fatigue during the day coupled with insomnia at night. I also ask about problems like confusion, loss of short term memory, reduced sex drive and emotional sensitivity.
Typically the person feels like they “just can’t take it anymore.”
I also look for a tongue that quivers or shakes a lot. This indicates adrenal fatigue. The tongue is often a pale red color or pale with a red tip.
If the person is stressed enough I may use Adrenal Support, instead of Nervous Fatigue Formula. I usually muscle test to see which one will work better for a given individual.
The dose for Nervous Fatigue Formula is four capsules of the regular formula or one of the concentrate two or three times daily. The dose for Adrenal Support is one capsule once or twice daily.
Most of the time I find that taking Nervous Fatigue Formula or Adrenal Support has the person feeling better in a matter of a few days. They are sleeping better and have more energy to cope with life. Of course, it can also help to teach them good stress management skills.