What is stress?
Any life change, whether positive or negative is a stress on the body. The adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys pump out cortisol, also known as adrenaline, in response to stress.
Normally cortisol is higher in the morning and lower at night. It peaks in response to stress to create what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This is the state one would be in when running away from a bear where your heart is racing, your alertness is heightened and you are ready to deal with the acute stressor.
In our high stress culture people are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ leading to a state of chronic stress, also known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal burnout syndrome. This is a state where your adrenal glands make an insufficient amount of cortisol and you therefore have issues adapting to acute stressors.
Effects of chronic stress
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Low energy, particularly in the morning and mid-afternoon
- Cravings for salt, sugar and caffeine
- Decreased cognitive function
- Decreased thyroid function
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Decreased muscle mass
- Increased abdominal fat deposition
- Decreased immunit
- Mood disturbances like irritability, anxiety and depressio
- Sleep disturbance
Sleep disturbance, particularly aggravated by shift work common in the nursing profession was the focus of this talk. Improving sleep patterns, especially in those who do shift work can help to manage stress and reduce the effects of adrenal fatigue.
12 tips to improve sleep hygiene
- Darkness: Light decreases melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleep. Make sure all electronics are turned off, turn the alarm clock away from the bed, and using black-out blinds can help to improve the release of melatonin
- Quiet: Creating a quite environment by turning off music, televisions and wearing earplugs helps to promote relaxation and sleep
- Temperature: Ensuring you are warm enough and cool enough helps promote a comfortable sleep environment
- Position: Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your arms and legs keeps the spine straight and can ease any muscle tension. Lying on your back with a pillow under the knees reduces low back tension. Avoid sleeping on your stomach because the spine is misaligned and this can cause further issues.
- Timing: Your body likes routine and releases hormones on a regular schedule called the circadian rhythm. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day promotes the release of hormones on a regular schedule.
- Length: 6-8 hours of sleep is ideal so your body has an adequate amount of time to rest and repair itself.
- Quality: Ask yourself if you are you dreaming? You dream when you are in the deep REM stage of sleep. Keeping a dream diary can help you figure out if you are reaching that stage or not.
- Relaxation: Calm your nervous system before bed: Create a quiet environment, turn off the tv, listen to calm music, meditate, do yoga poses or stretch, deep breathing exercises, etc. to promote relaxation.
- Neutral bath: Taking a bathe lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes numbs/calms the nervous system to promote the relaxation response.
- Nutritional supplements: Taking supplements to promote sleep can be effective. Some common examples are magnesium, melatonin and L-theanine. Speak to your health care provider before starting any new supplements.
- Herbal teas: Teas for sleep include chamomile, passionflower, valerian, lemonbalm, catnip and hops. Teas are relatively safe, however speak to your health care provider prior to taking any of these in a more highly concentrated capsule or tincture form.
- Write it down: Keep notebook by your bed to journal about your thoughts and emotions that are preventing you from sleeping. Writing down a to-do list is also helpful to put aside those thoughts.