Monday, September 21, 2015

Adrenal Fatigue

This past spring my Naturopathic Doctor, and subsequently my Functional Medicine Doctor  diagnosed me with Adrenal Fatigue. It didn't surprise me that much. I had been more than a little tired, after all I had not been sleeping very well for several years. By "sleeping poorly" I mean I was getting in the range of two to four hours of sleep each night, even though I thought  I had a favorable night-time wind-down routine. I always took a relaxing Lavender bath, and I didn't go to the computer afterward. I didn't watch TV news (which upsets me). I wore earplugs nightly.

Nevertheless, the insomnia did catch up with me one morning when my alarm rang to get me up for work --- except I couldn't climb out of bed. I just simply couldn't --- because I was utterly exhausted. I didn't even see the signs that it was coming. Like falling asleep on the bus after a day at work, or laying awake for hours throughout the night. I just figured the naps on the bus after work were interfering with my sleep at night. Except that I couldn't stop myself from closing my eyes. And I just figured my eyes were tired from working on the computer. I just didn't see how exhausted I was getting.


After a day at work, I would go to bed and fall asleep before too long, but then wake up at 3:00 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. It doesn't help that I have a partner who is a night owl. He is up long after I go to bed. Sometimes I would wake up when I heard the shower running, or I would hear him laughing at something on his computer, or I'd hear him bumping around the kitchen. Those sounds would interrupt my sleep, but I still didn't understand how  the overall effects of all the night activity in our household was affecting my health.

To complicate things further, last fall the neighbors to the east of us began constructing a new home, beginning with the demolition of their old house. Construction began at 7:00 a.m. most mornings, including most of my days off when I could actually sleep in --- if I was lucky. But such was not the case because giant demolition, and then excavation equipment, was bumping and grinding along outside my bedroom window. Construction crews were yelling at one another over the roar of the machines, trucks were coming and going. And when summer came, the heat made it necessary to open the windows at night and then there was the traffic noise. Oh sure, traffic slowed somewhat at night, except for the motorcycles, the street racers, and the sirens, and the times when my neighbor in the back lane opened and closed  his garage door with a loud bump --- but such is city life, right? Even with earplugs, sounds from beyond the bedroom door were problems.


When I visited my Naturopathic Doctor with my complaint of wakefulness, he referred me to this blog about getting a good night's sleep. Among others, his number one solution is develop a regular sleep-wake cycle, and sleep in complete and utter darkness. I didn't realize the scope of that statement, until my partner hung up some black curtains over our bedroom window, and we saw how much light flooded at me from other sources. Light flooded in under the door, for example. As I stated earlier, this is problematic, since Stan* is a night owl. Additionally, not even the black curtains could keep out all the lights from the city. I didn't realize how much light there was "out there" until I tried unsuccessfully to block it out. The black curtains were only part of the solution. More was needed.

"The only time you allow light into your sleeping space is during the three nights of the full moon. This allows your body to tune in to the circadian rhythms of nature. It can be likened to an internal clock reset," the Naturopathic Doctor explained.

I resorted to drastic measures. I moved to the basement.

There were problems down there, too.
  • I asked Stan to cover one of the windows with a sheet of plywood. That window didn't matter because first of all, it is under our deck. Second, it is in a room where I don't want a window --- I want cupboards on that wall in the near future. 
  • I covered all the lights in the room with tape, that is, the pesky red lights on the smoke alarm and the security sensor.
    "Red is not a soothing color," a healer once told me.
  • I closed the bathroom door.
  • I covered the one remaining window with a dark towel.
At last, utter darkness prevailed and I was ready for sleep.

Easier said than done, once a longstanding pattern of not sleeping was established.  Even in the blackness, I was waking up after two hours and couldn't get back to sleep.

After several months of persisting in my new pattern, I noticed my hours of solid sleep were incrementally increasing. It was "lights out" by 10:00 - 11:00 p.m. and I'd wake up after three, then four hours. By my follow-up appointment to the Functional Medicine Doctor, I was able to declare five hours of sleep.

I was on a roll and didn't want to stop at five hours. I found an awesome talk on the internet about the need to "love myself" by which I took that to mean "accept myself as I was, even if I was feeling dis-ease." I used the talk to personalize my own self-talk in a way that was soothing, reassuring, and loving. I put it on my voice recorder and played it before going to bed. Allowing my inner child to listen to my own voice in a soothing way is proving beneficial in "re-parenting" myself. In effect, the harsh critical parent voice with which I was raised is being "over-written" by the soothing in-my-own-voice meditation. As the weeks went by, I edited my self-talk even more by smoothing out the parts that didn't feel right when I heard them. I also increased the length of the meditation to a half-hour from fifteen minutes. Mostly now, I don't get to the end before falling asleep.


My Functional Medicine Doctor has me on some natural medicines, which agree with my body --- non-drug medicines to which I'm not allergic. I'm on a paleo diet, that is I eat mostly fruit, vegetables, and meat --- but no grains. My Naturopathic Doctor provided a free pdf cookbook which he offers to all his clients with this condition. Generally speaking, grain flours have now been replaced with nut flours like coconut. I stick with organic foods. I gave my body a kidney, liver, and gallbladder cleanse, plus I went for several colonics hydrotherapy treatments. I also take some herbal pills and tinctures to normalize hormone levels.

Gaining Ground

I went back to work this past Friday, after a four-month absence and felt that I coped well. Fortunately, my employer provides a graduated-return-to-work process to test my new wings. Happily, I didn't fall asleep on the bus, as I listened to soothing classical (adagios) music. I'm feeling a lot different than I did that morning four months ago, when I couldn't get myself out of bed. My health team originally indicated that a hypo-adrenal condition sometimes takes from six months to two years to heal all the things that health-wise had "gone off the rails."

Anybody else have sleep problems? Feel free to comment below because I'd love to hear about how others are coping. While I'm not 100 percent yet, I'm feeling a great improvement.

The Promise of Sleep by William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., and Chrisitopher Vaughan is additional reading available at Amazon.

For more information and a Q&A, I found this talk about Adrenal Fatigue on YouTube to be very informative.

* Not his real name.

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