The Connection Between
Sleep and Stress Relief

One of the first and most important things you need to do to begin your adrenal fatigue recovery is sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is usually something we have a hard time doing when we have adrenal fatigue. Or at least, sleeping at the right times!

Healthy Lifestyle Tips:

  • Give yourself permission to sleep. Even in the middle of the day. (Shocking, I know! What will people think? ) When we force ourselves to push through that groggy afternoon slump time, it triggers a stress response from our adrenals, forcing them to produce more cortisol when what they are trying to tell us is that they need a break!
  • Horizontal rest, even if it's only for 15 minutes, is better for your adrenals than vertical. Don't ask me how they know, but they do! So lay down on the sofa and put your feet up for a few!
  • Sleep in in the mornings. Or, if you have to get up and get the kids off to school, go back to bed as soon as you can. Some important rebuilding goes on between 7 & 9am. The more you can let your body sleep when it wants to, the faster it will be able to restore itself to a point where you don't NEED to sleep at inconvenient times.
  • Be protective of your bedtime. Plan to be in bed no later than between 9 and 9:45pm, and stick to it. Sleep is CRUCIAL to adrenal repair. You need to be as regular as you can be with your sleep cycle while you are are in your intensive rebuilding phase.

Sleep and Cortisol

Cortisol is one of your adrenal glands' stress-response hormones. Lack of sleep, or lack of good-quality sleep, affects the release of cortisol into your system, but not in the way you probably think. We would assume that if our glands were tired, their production levels would drop, right? However, Sleep deprivation causes your body to release MORE cortisol, for longer periods of time.

Ordinarily, your body has a cycle of cortisol release, with levels being highest in the mornings, and decreasing by evening. Your body will also release extra cortisol throughout the day as a response to emotional or physical stress.

Too much cortisol in your system in the evenings keeps you from sleeping deeply, causing you to wake frequently overnight and wake in the morning unrefreshed.

This leads to a vicious cycle, as lack of deep-cycle sleep is itself a stress to your body, causing it to release more cortisol which keeps you from getting the kind of rest that's going to stop the cycle!

Why Am I So tired All The Time?

  • Forcing ourselves to get up earlier than our bodies want to starts the whole day off on the wrong foot. With adrenal fatigue, we usually find that our most restful sleep comes between 6-9am, right around the time we have to be getting up to get ready for work, or send the kids off to school. So, we force ourselves to get up, stressing our adrenals and causing our first stress-induced cortisol release of the morning.
  • We get a cup of coffee to help us wake up. Stress number 2.
  • If we have breakfast at all, it's cereal, toast, a muffin, pancakes…--simple carbohydrates that will turn to sugar quickly to get us going, triggering the cortisol release to help balance blood sugar and insulin levels. Stress number 3.
  • So far we haven't even accounted for the usual stresses of the morning routine: convincing kids to get up, find their lost socks, lost homework, get 'em dressed, fed, and out the door in time for the bus so that we can get out the door in time for work--…Stress numbers 4,5,6…..our hearts are really pumpin' now, we've got a good adrenaline rush worked up and we're off-n-runnin'...
  • About 10am, we have the blood-sugar crash that we set ourselves up for at breakfast, so we take a coffee break, where we have yet more caffeine and breads to tide us over until lunch. More of the blood-sugar roller-coaster stress.
  • After lunch, we really want to take a nap, but that seems so lazy! Who takes a nap in the middle of the day?!?!? So we push through our body's call for sleep, requiring yet another stress-hormone release. We force ourselves to work, even though our brains are blurry, nearly delirious for a while. We throw something easy together for dinner, or drive thru and pick it up on the way home, because we don't have the energy to make anything that takes any effort. We can't wait for bedtime!
  • Finally, we get the kids in bed, it's 9pm, and we're looking forward to getting into bed ourselves, and…...we lay down and can't relax. Our heart is still racing, our minds are racing, and we can't settle down and get to sleep, even though we KNOW we're tired! We've been dragging all afternoon! We lay there for 2, maybe 3 hours, flipping and flopping and unable to unwind, because we've still got elevated cortisol levels. Now we're getting anxious because it's 12:30am, we're not asleep yet, and we have to get up again soon! This is our chance to be sleeping, and we're MISSING IT!!!!

And that's just your regular, routine stresses. On top of that, throw in an interpersonal conflict, job or volunteer obligations, a fender-bender, a death in the family, a wedding, a new baby, a move, a new job or a new boss…...

What To Do?

The first thing you have got to do is start listening to your body's signals, and stop ignoring the times it wants to sleep. Stop feeling guilty for being "lazy"…. Sleep in…, nap… and resist the urge to stay up late just because you have a "second wind". That second wind is actually an inverted cortisol cycle, peaking in the evenings instead of in the morning.

It helps to start out by going with the flow, and sleeping in and/or napping whenever your body is asking to, because that helps to diffuse the "vicious cycle".

Allowing your body to sleep when it wants gives you the deeper sleep cycles you need to help restore your adrenals, and reduces the cortisol releases that are caused by sleep-deprivation stress. This, in turn, helps reduce the overall cortisol levels in your system at bedtime, making it easier to sleep overnight.

Don't worry about developing a bad sleep schedule. You are not a healthy infant needing to be trained, you are in a compromised health situation and sleep is vital to your recovery. Listen to your body.

Supplements you may find helpful are 500mg. of magnesium at bedtime to help you relax physically, and GABA to help you relax mentally.

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