Adrenal Gland Boot Camp Using Light & Dark Cues
As we have discussed in previous parts of this series, a vital component of adrenal health lies in the proper release of two hormones: cortisol and melatonin. The interplay of these two hormones is the basis for what we call our “circadian rhythm.” First, let’s recall this graph:
Here we can clearly see the proper rise and fall of cortisol and melatonin throughout the day. A person whose graph looks like this one is probably getting good, restful sleep. For someone with adrenal dysfunction and insomnia, however, this delicate hormonal dance has probably become disrupted somewhere along the way. What can be done to correct this hormonal imbalance?
One of the most important pieces of the “resetting your circadian rhythm” puzzle is using light and dark cues to properly signal to the body to produce either cortisol or melatonin at the correct times of day. The following are simple steps you can take upon waking up in the morning and when you go to bed at night.
1. Morning Cortisol Kick-Start:
-Pick a time of day to wake up and STICK TO IT, even on weekends! This will be difficult at first, as most people use the weekend or their days off work to “catch up on sleep.” However, there is little evidence that the body actually benefits from sleeping in, and it may even make you more tired. The best hour to wake up is one that leaves enough time to spend 10 mins being active, 20 mins eating breakfast, and enough time to shower and get ready. Ideally, people should wake up with the sun, as sunlight triggers melatonin inhibition.
-If you get up before the sun, or sleep in a darkened room, get a “wake up light” alarm clock. These lamps have full spectrum light that gradually gets brighter as you near your wake-up time, mimicking natural sunlight.
-As soon as your alarm goes off, try to get out of bed right away instead of snoozing. Drink a glass of water, and either go outside or stand near a bright window for 5 minutes.
-Spend 10-15 minutes being active. It doesn’t matter what you do! Walk your dog, do yoga, pushups, stretch…whatever you enjoy. If your schedule allows for it, it is ideal to work out in the morning. So if you have time, hit them gym now instead of putting it off until later!
-EAT BREAKFAST: This cannot be overemphasized! A healthy protein shake and smoothie along with a protein source like eggs, sausage, or (occasionally) even bacon will give you the energy you need to get through your morning
2. Nightly Melatonin Mend:
-Consistency is key. Pick a bed time, and stick to it
-Try to eat your last meal 1-2 hours before bed, and include a complex carbohydrate like a sweet potato, along with a healthy fat, like coconut oil. This will stabilize your blood sugar through the night and decrease your tendency to wake up in the small hours.
-Stop looking at any lighted screens at least one hour before bed. This includes phones, tablets, computers, and television. Read, meditate, or listen to an audiobook instead.
-Don’t get into bed until you are ready to go to sleep. Lying in bed with your mind racing is counter-productive. If your mind races in bed no matter what, try listening to calming music without vocals or a guided meditation.
-Make your bedroom a “haven of darkness.” Light is the enemy. When your door is closed, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. Wear a sleep mask, put up curtains, and block the crack of your door with a towel, if necessary.
-Achieving orgasm by yourself or with a partner before sleep does wonders-it floods the brain with inhibitory neurotransmitters which are chemical signals that encourage a calm and restful state.
Resetting your circadian rhythm won’t happen overnight-it takes time and consistency! Chronic insomnia is incredibly frustrating and often takes further intervention to solve it. Stay tuned for future articles in the series which will discuss what nutrients and botanicals are the most beneficial for sleep. d