We've all had days, weeks and for some even months when we have felt out of control and more stress than normal. Stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, short tempered, unable to cope, emotional plus is a major cause of insomnia. There are many forms of insomnia for example not being able to stay asleep or the opposite having trouble falling asleep, but in this blog we will focus on mainly on stress and how it contributes to insomnia.
Stress is a reaction that occurs within the body when the Sympathetic Nervous System is over stimulated or overactive. When person is presented with a challenging situation, whether it be running late for an appointment, pressures of work, family or financial problems, finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law or struggling to accept some terrible news, a stress response is triggered.
Within the body the are two major components of the nervous system the first is the Sympathetic Nervous System and it's what keeps us awake, motivated, balanced and is heightened when it senses danger. The second component is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which relaxes and calms the body. It is responsible for digestion, bowel movements, sexual arousal, salivation, and urination. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System, one stimulates the other relaxes.
When a stressful situation presents the Sympathetic Nervous System stimulates the adrenals to secrete adrenaline (epinephrine). An increase in adrenaline results in a rise in heart rate, breathing, blood flow and pressure, an amplification of the 5 senses and muscle strength. Digestive secretion, saliva and urine flow are decreased during this time. This is done in preparation for the fight or flight response. This response was great a 10,000 years ago if you were confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger or a warring tribe, but in today's society, the constant over-activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System causes real and long term harm to our health.
After the release of adrenaline, the body scrambles to help support the flight-or-fight response and reducing the negative effects on the body of stress. It does this by secreting cortisol, the body's main anti-stress hormone. Once a perceived threat has passed, adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal as does the heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, while other systems that were suppressed resume their regular activities.
Unfortunately if the stressors are always present or a person constantly feel under attack or pressure, the fight-or-flight response remains switched on.
The long-term activation of the flight-or-fight and the subsequent excessive exposure of cortisol can cause physical and emotional harm by disrupting nearly all essential body processes. This increases the risk of many health problems, including:
|Adrenal fatigue||Hair loss|
|Auto-immune disorders||Heart disease|
|Chronic Fatigue Syndrome||Insomnia|
|Dementia||Loss of libido|
|Depression||Memory and concentration impairment|
|Digestive problems||Weight gain|
To have a good restful night sleep the body needs ample amounts of melatonin and GABA. Melatonin is manufactured from the happy neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, which in turn is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, anger, crying, carbohydrate cravings and of course insomnia.
Elevated cortisol increases the production of the enzyme tryptophan pyrrolase, which inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin as well as causing the destruction of available tryptophan. This two fold attack on serotonin levels results in less melatonin being available to initiate and maintain sleep.
GABA is the body's major relaxing, calming and tranquillising neurotransmitter, it plays a crucial role in activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System and is responsible for maintaining sleep throughout the night. Elevated cortisol reduces GABA and Parasympathetic Nervous System activity resulting in continued elevated stress levels and a poor nights sleep.
Breathing - There are many breathing techniques that can have profound effects on the way we feel, sleep and our stress levels. A simple deep breathing technique is to breathe in through the nose for a count of 5 and out through the nose for another count of 5 and do this for 5 minutes. Breathing deep in and out through the nose activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces adrenaline and cortisol secretions while increasing Serotonin and GABA levels. Trying doing this for 5 minutes morning and night and you'll be amazed at the difference.
Herbs and Nutrients - We are lucky to be blessed with some wonderful herbs and nutrients that help reduce elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels while at the same time strengthen and support the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Magnesium, known as the 'lullaby mineral', is the main mineral supporting the nervous system making it highly beneficial during times of stress and for insomnia. Herbs such as St John's Wort, Ginkgo biloba, Withania, Bacopa and Skullcap to help improve sleep, lower elevated cortisol and adrenaline plus reduce the toxic affects of stress
For patients sufferering from stress and associated insomnia we generally prescribe a combination of Cortisol Calm, MagExcel and B-Calm. These key nutritional supplements help increase GABA, improve the function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, lower elevated cortisol and adrenaline, improve sleep, increase a sense of calm, plus reduce the toxic and negative effects of stress.
Reducing Stimulants - Even though people feel they need a coffee, cola or energy drink to give them a boost, especially if they are tired. The truth of the matter is, these caffeinated drinks can have an adverse effects by increasing adrenaline and causing the urinary excretion of magnesium. Caffeine can also overwork the adrenal glands and liver while exacerbating the toxic effects of stress.
Improving the Diet - Improving the quality of fresh and healthy foods goes a long way in supporting the body during times of stress, while helping to counteract its negative effects. Incorporate a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, seafood and grass fed meats is important not only for stress support, but our long term health and longevity.
Exercise - Regular exercise improves breathing, activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces stress, decrease elevated cortisol while producing endorphins, special brain chemicals that make us feel good.
There are two important tests that can help sufferers of stress and insomnia, they are the Mental Health Test that measures the neurotransmitters Serotonin, GABA, Adrenaline, Glutamate, Dopamine and Nor-Adrenaline. Plus the Adrenal Fatigue Test which measures cortisol 4 times a day, thus providing greater understanding of adrenal function and cortisol levels.
The information provided here is of a general nature intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.
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