I have on and off struggles with sleep, the most recent of which started from a painful back spasm caused by overdoing a workout. It took about ten weeks to get over that spasm, and the pain seriously disrupted my sleep, causing me to spiral into menopausal symptoms, which disrupted my sleep. The symptoms were caused by my overstressed adrenal glands that were running wide open, compensating for my lack of sleep and preventing me from getting to sleep. While my adrenals were compensating for my lack of sleep, they were not converting hormones properly, causing me to fall into the menopausal symptoms. My Dr. of Oriental medicine says that if adrenals are healthy then a woman doesn’t have to experience the typical menopausal hot flashes, night sweats, etc. My experience has proved this – good sleep, rested adrenals and no symptoms. Stressed adrenals yield symptoms and they lead to a vicious cycle. With the adrenals stuck wide open, pumping cortisol, I am on a downward spiral that I can’t arrest without the help of my doc. Here is an article that spells out much of what he says and what I have gleaned on my own: Is adrenal imbalance keeping you from sleep at night?
It took two acupuncture visits and rounds of supplements (adaptocrine) to help me get back on track this time. During prior bouts of adrenal/sleep disruption, my doc always had to point out that I was hypoglycemic, and it showed every initial acupuncture appointment when my stomach would start to rumble like some approaching freight train and hypoglycemic sweats and shaking would start. Prior to that treatment I had no idea. This time I felt the hypoglycemic symptoms days before I got there.
How does someone who eats low carb and close to the Whole 30 end up hypoglycemic? And why does hypoglycemia matter when sleeping? First, why does it matter? According to my doc, while my body is fed and sleeping, my brain is working hard and demanding energy. By two or three in the morning it becomes hypoglycemic and wakes me to the point of not being able to return to sleep. My body isn’t demanding food, but my brain is.
Why does adrenal stress cause hypoglycemia? I can’t find a good explanation. There are lots of references to hypoglycemia causing insomnia but not insomnia causing hypoglycemia. I am guessing hypoglycemia occurs because my energy demands increase because I am awake almost all of the time, requiring more food. I don’t usually feel the need for more food (thanks to low carb, non-inflammatory diet, I guess), so I don’t eat more, but I guess I have a greater demand? Any feedback appreciated!
While looking for an explanation, I came across another good article that provides more information regarding the sleep, adrenal, hypoglycemia loop: Adrenal Health Solutions: Fatigue and Insomnia. According to this article, often one of the side effects of insomnia is weight gain – fortunately that hasn’t been an issue for me, probably because my body doesn’t yell at me for more food in a way that I could understand it and my diet is so nutrient-dense that it can withstand great demands? I don’t know but would love some feedback if anyone has it.
One of the common solutions for night waking is a high protein/high fat snack before bed. The food/energy that my body needs through the night should slowly be released, feeding my brain and allowing me to stay asleep. I did this, but it didn’t help - at least as quickly as I wanted. I figured that if I am hypoglycemic and waking at 2:00, then I will eat a banana, which will give my brain quick energy. The first time it took me about an hour to fall back asleep and I was thrilled. Usually I am up from 2:00 on, but not this time. The next three nights it took about 20 minutes to fall back asleep. The fifth and sixth nights it took five minutes or less. By night seven I was sleeping through the night. Yay!
One night I woke at 4:00 instead of 2:00. Usually that is a victory for me, but my doc is adamant that six hours of sleep isn’t enough, and I know he is right. So I ate a banana and fell asleep until 6:30. You can’t understand how amazing that is for me.
I am climbing out of the insomnia hole quicker than ever thanks to the banana snack. I continue to take my supplements, stimulate my acupuncture points and eat my banana if needed. My doc says that my adrenals will always be a weakness for me (I burned them out when I had Colson, worked full-time, cared for him full-time and slept about two hours a night for about two years). What is exciting for me, though, is that when I am sleeping well, my adrenals are strong enough to compensate for menopause, which is just as it should be.
Finally, even though my sleep is greatly improved, I am still hypoglycemic during the day, but I feel the symptoms receding. Hopefully I will be symptom-free soon.