12 tips to improve your sleep and prevent adrenal fatigue

Recently I gave a talk for the Oncology Nurse’s Lunch and Learn at the Ottawa General Hospital on the effects of shift work on sleep and stress management.  Here is a summary of the key points from the talk:

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.


Adrenal fatigue

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

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

  1. 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
  2. Quiet: Creating a quite environment by turning off music, televisions and wearing earplugs helps to promote relaxation and sleep
  3. Temperature: Ensuring you are warm enough and cool enough helps promote a comfortable sleep environment
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Length: 6-8 hours of sleep is ideal so your body has an adequate amount of time to rest and repair itself.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Neutral bath: Taking a bathe lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes numbs/calms the nervous system to promote the relaxation response.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.




About drellensimonend
Dr. Simone strongly believes that the mind and body are connected to your overall health and wellness. As a primary health care provider, her practice provides ongoing support throughout your healing journey. Her role as your Naturopathic Doctor is to assist you in discovering your needs, support you in personal growth and help you reach your health and wellness goals. With the belief that happiness and balance is possible for everyone, Dr. Simone strives to help her patients live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Dr. Simone focuses on family wellness and has special interests in women and children’s health. She has experience with reproductive health, working with women through different phases in their lives; to regulate the menstrual cycle, ease PMS symptoms, optimize fertility, provide support during and after pregnancy, maintain breast health and welcome menopause. Children have also been a primary focus in Dr. Simone’s life in both her professional role as a naturopath and in her volunteer work. She believes that setting healthy habits at a young age can be critical for long-term health and wellness.

2 Responses to 12 tips to improve your sleep and prevent adrenal fatigue

  1. crichardrsw says:

    Hey Dr. Ellen – I’m sure it was a great presentation, our staff really enjoyed it when you spoke with us.

    An extra sleeping tip about writing things down before bed. If worry is a problem before bed people can try the “metered writing” exercise. For 60 seconds do deep breathing for relaxation then write out thoughts (journal) for 60 second. Keep alternating between deep breathing and writing. It slows down the thought process and the nervous system and helps to let go of worry.

    Have a great Saturday – hope to see you at the Tweet Up!

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