An Ayurvedic approach to Insomnia related to adrenal exhaustion
Many doctors today when confronted with a patient with insomnia or fatigue will recommend strategies such as taking a holiday or may even give you sleeping pills or anti-depressants. Whereas an Ayurvedic doctor will take into account the whole person, his lifestyle, stress factors, health factors and after this he will check your pulses. If adrenal exhaustion is suspected he will recommend some herbal formulas which will help stabilize the adrenals in order to restore balance to the body. Often a series of massages with special herbal formulations for detoxification and nourishment of the body will be recommended. Ayurveda medicines and treatments are not a quick fix’s, they heal on a subtle level to rebuild the entire energy system by balancing the body chemistry.
Yes, many people today suffer from adrenal exhaustion without realizing it. If you have been under a lot of pressure or stress for a prolonged period, experienced a major shock or suffered mental, emotional or spiritual stress, you may have developed adrenal exhaustion which has triggered your insomnia. The signs and symptoms of insomnia include your inability to sleep normally, difficulty falling asleep, waking up regularly during the night, waking up too early in the morning, feeling that you haven’t slept all night because of heightened awareness, not being able to go back to sleep, not feeling refreshed in the morning and experiencing brain fog during the day.
So what are the adrenal glands?
Your adrenal glands are very important, in fact essential for life, they secrete several hormones that prepare your bodies to respond to stress. They are round disc shaped glands measuring around 3 – 4 inches across, they are located on top of each kidney on a level with the lowest rib in your back. When under stress you may notice some discomfort in this area, this of course is not always the case, other factors can also cause discomfort in this area eg. muscular tension.
Hormones secreted or assisted by the adrenal glands
- Adrenalin also referred to as epinephrine – Activates the bodies fight or flight response
- Noradrenalin also referred to as epinephrine
- Cortisol – It helps the body use sugar (glucose) and metabolizes fat to produce energy, it helps the body manage stress, it activates the bodies fight or flight response
- Aldosterone - Regulates sodium and potassium levels in the body, helps control the balance of fluids and electrolytes in the blood, also helps regulate blood pressure.
- Estrogens - Estrogen is usually produced by the adrenal glands in post-menopausal woman whose ovaries are no longer producing estrogen.
- testosterone - Adrenal testosterone is testosterone produced from the target tissue conversion of DHEA and DHEA-S which is produced by the adrenal glands, so in aroundabout way, the adrenal glands are an important source of testosterone.
- Pregnenelone -A steroid the body makes as a precursor to other steroid hormones, such as progesterone, DHEA, mineralocorticoids (regulates electrolyte balance), corticosteroids (which influence inflammation and metabolism), androgen’s and estrogen’s.
- DHEA – DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an endogenous hormone (made in the human body), and secreted by the adrenal gland. DHEA serves as precursor to male and female sex hormones (androgen’s and estrogen’s).
All of these hormones regulate most aspects of our bodies functioning. Adrenal glands are innervated and stimulated by activity of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic or automatic nervous system of the body. This is the part of our nervous system that is activated when we are faced with a life threatening event.
There are no definitive tests for adrenal exhaustion, although there is a test which can measure Cortisor/DHEAS in saliva
There are a few markers which can point to adrenal exhaustion but can also be pointers for other disorders eg. low blood pressure, low blood sugar, a tendency to gain weight (especially around the waist) and inability to lose it, fatigue which is not relieved by a good nights sleep, brain fog, pain that is difficult to diagnose, reduced sex drive, high frequency of catching a cold or flu. Adrenal exhaustion is not simply a sleep deficit, although in many cases insomnia or sleep deprivation can be a factor in how these hormones are excreted and used by the body.
Herbs that help improve adrenal gland function
- Chinese ginseng – (Root)
- Licorice - it is used as an anti bacterial and antiviral agent. It is used to treat chronic viral and acute hepatitis, infections and fevers, it activates the body’s own natural interferon mechanism and nourishes the adrenal glands.
- Oats – (Grain) – Oats, known scientifically as Avena sativa, is a cereal grain, it lowers cholesterol so good for prevention of blood clots, lowring the risk of heart disease resulting in stroke or cardiovascular disease.
- Siberian ginseng also known as Eleuthero – (Root) The active ingredients in Siberian ginseng called eleutherosides, are thought to stimulate the immune system preventative for colds and flu and improves memory.
- Ginkgo – (Leaves) – Treats circulatory disorders, it contain 2 types of chemicals terpenoids and flavonoids, they are believed to have potent anti-oxidant propertie.
- Astragalus – (plant native to Asia), helps to build immunity and enhances the functions of the lung and spleen.
- Gotu kola – One of the most commonly used herbs, it helps to invigorate a sluggish adrenal function, it has anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic actions and provides support for both adrenal glands and the nervous system. It also helps to combat the negative effects of stress and reduces anxiety.
These herbs may be taken individually or collectively as an adrenal tonic. They support and stimulate your adrenal gland, they all support and stimulate your adrenal gland function. Other useful herbs may include spikenard, devil’s club and American ginseng.
Warm milk is often prescribed at bedtime with a small amount of butter of ghee, this has a relaxing effect. Avoid spicy foods at all times, and make sure your last meal is at least four hours before bedtime, the digestive system works very hard to digest food.
Yoga is brilliant for inducing a good nights sleep, the quality of your sleep will improve because of the stimulatory effect yoga has on the nervous system, and in particular the brain. You will experience a more restful sleep due to the relaxing aspect of yoga and the subsequent relieving of stress, tension and fatigue.
Herbs can have a powerful effect on your body and you must at all times adhere to your Ayurvedic doctor or herbalists recommendations and more so if your are pregnant or have some other impairment such as kidney and liver dysfunction.