Why Adrenal Fatigue Makes You Feel Wired But Tired

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smiling woman tired from adrenal fatigue
Health And Wellness

What is adrenal fatigue? You may be unfamiliar with adrenal fatigue symptoms, even though you're currently experiencing them every day.

Adrenal fatigue is what happens when "...the adrenal glands are exhausted and unable to produce adequate quantities of hormones, primarily cortisol." This affects your sleep and energy levels throughout the day.

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What adrenal fatigue and "wired but tired" feels like.

One of the most common issues you may experience with adrenal fatigue is that every day without fail, you'll be so tired all the time but then at night, you can’t sleep and just lay there. This is what's known as “wired but tired.”

In most cases, you're barely making it through the day, relying on multiple coffees, sodas, and energy drinks. By bedtime, you lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

In order to understand why this is so common and normal but unfortunately a bad response, you have to know what the proper response is.

How your adrenal glands work.

Your adrenal glands are tiny pyramids that sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for producing myriad hormones in the body, one of them being cortisol — also known as your stress hormone.

Cortisol is naturally pretty high in the morning to pull you out of that lovely REM sleep and get your day going. Then throughout the day, it tapers off, so you can go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

It’s a nice, gentle curve that in an ideal world gets you through the day without issues.

Cortisol — "the stress hormone" — is produced by your adrenal glands.

Now, rewind to one of the first major stressors that you can remember. A new acute, or recent, stressor has you up at night with your thoughts just going like the Energizer Bunny. That is a lot of cortisol for your adrenals to output.

Now physiologically, that’s the perfect response. If you were a cave-person running from a saber-tooth tiger, you'd want to be up making sure your new space was safe and defended.

Unfortunately, your giant brain can’t distinguish a physical threat from an emotional or mental threat. So, every time you think about the circumstances that are stressing you out, your brain gives you a little dose of fight-or-flight, just in case you're in mortal danger.

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Stress and adrenal fatigue.

Like most people in a developed country, the onslaught of stressors never ends. You probably have a list of them started in your head.

What happens is over time is that your adrenals get tired from running from predators. So now you’ve gone from the “wired but tired” phase to the “I’m tired all the time and I need to nap daily” phase.

You have most likely burnt through your reserves. You can't maintain a high level of cortisol all the time; you'll run out of pieces to build it up.

So as you sleep at night, you make a small stockpile. And because of the stressors of your day-to-day life, you blow through that reserve by mid-afternoon.

Now yes, your lunch choices and blood sugar do play a factor in the post-lunch crash, but let's stay on the adrenal path.

After years of the same stressful commutes and job stressors, you don’t even have the same starting level that you used to. So instead of a nice, gentle curve decreasing gradually over the day, you might have a crappy little ramp that has you starting barely off the ground and crashing by noon.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

So, what does all of this look like? The biggest complaint is fatigue and brain fog (it’s also often seen with thyroid issues, so both should be worked up).

Some other symptoms include the inability to lose weight, no matter what your diet and exercise routine look like, craving carbs (another symptom of yeast overgrowth), anxiety, insomnia or waking at night, and an inappropriate reaction to stressors.

While there are common symptoms, it really takes getting to know the person. Most of us say we have energy, but in reality, you're exhausted and forcing yourself through the day.

This is adrenal fatigue. However, because you're still producing cortisol, you don’t have the endocrine disorder of Cushing’s Disease. So technically, when your doctor says you're “normal,” they might not be trained in any integrative or functional way of looking at labs, so they send you home.

What you can do if you suspect adrenal fatigue.

This is where the work is most important! I don’t want to wait until you have a disease that fits their criteria to treat you, especially when you know the trajectory you're on.

This is when you need to make diet changes for nutrient-dense food, lifestyle changes to help manage stress, and added supplements to help the body rebound faster.

If you need more information, research Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis dysfunction, and see if that fits you. HPA axis dysfunction is real and many people struggle with it to some degree. Most conventional doctors don’t diagnose this, because there are no accurate codes for it besides fatigue.

Find a doctor who listens. You aren’t crazy, you’re running from a million bears of varying sizes, and you're tired. That's OK!

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Dr. Kelly Winnett is a naturopathic doctor who specializes in diabetes, fertility issues, and other health and wellness problems in Arizona. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website here.

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