January 2012

An important lifestyle step to master is maximizing the rest and repair processes that are accomplished through adequate sleep. Although we have in many ways separated ourselves from dependence on the natural world, we are still physiologically linked to nature.

BIOLOGICAL CLOCKS

Our link to nature is clearly seen in our sleep patterns and in our hormonal system. Our hormones are intimately linked to several natural rhythms or biological clocks. These biological rhythms are based on the twenty-four hour cycle of daylight and darkness as well as the monthly cycle of the moon.

TWENTY-FOUR HOUR ADRENAL HORMONE CYCLE

Just like the monthly biological clock in females, both men and women, have twenty-four hour cycles, or daily clocks. While fluctuations in female hormone production vary with a monthly cycle, the adrenal hormone cortisol varies with a twenty-four hour or daily cycle. Cortisol levels peak in the early morning hours as the sun rises and taper off as the sun sets, reaching their lowest levels three hours after dark. This daily rhythm of cortisol dictates when we should be our most active and when we should rest.

Any time you fly and change time zones, the importance of this twenty-four hour biological clock becomes clear. Even a time change of a few hours can be enough to throw off one’s normal sleep cycle. Cortisol not only dictates our sleep and wake states; it is also the primary hormone involved in directing immune system functioning.

IMMUNE TRAFFICKING CYCLE

Have you ever wondered why your cold or flu symptoms get worse at night? It’s because the twenty-four hour rhythm of cortisol production regulates your immune system as well. As cortisol drops at night, our immune cells become more active. These cells leave the bone marrow and spleen to protect you while you rest. During this highly active period of immune function, immune cells kill bacteria and viruses. This basic immune activity relies on appropriate levels of cortisol. As cortisol drops at night, our immune system activity picks up, killing bacteria and viruses in large numbers leading to greater mucous production. This leads to more congestion and coughing at night as your body attempts to get rid of the mucous created from destroying bacteria and viruses. At daybreak, cortisol rises and immune cells return to the bone marrow and spleen to rest and recondition in preparation for the next nightly cycle.

NATURAL SLEEP CYCLE

If cortisol is out of balance, this normal immune function is compromised. As mentioned earlier, cortisol levels rise at daybreak giving us the energy to begin the working day. As cortisol drops naturally at night, we enter into rest and recovery, physical repair and psychic regeneration. Our immune system functions optimally if we to go to sleep by 10 p.m. As we sleep, physical repair takes place, immune cells patrol our bodies, eliminating cancer cells, bacteria, viruses and other harmful agents. However, if cortisol is elevated at night this immune function is compromised. If cortisol levels are normal during sleep, then true rest and recovery takes place thereby enhancing physical repair and immunity.

During sleep we also enter into stages of psychic regeneration. During these times, the brain releases chemicals that enhance our immune system. All during the night, we are going into Rapid Eye Movement (or REM) sleep states and non-REM sleep, alternating between light sleep and deep dream states. This is how we process the mental and emotional events of the previous day and refresh our minds for the day ahead. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to accomplish all these tasks. Without sufficient sleep, the immune system is hard pressed to keep up with its repair work and this creates the opportunity for disease processes to begin. If you miss out on proper rest, your physical repair and psychic regeneration will be compromised.

Symptoms are the obvious manifestation of an underlying imbalance in your body, but oftentimes symptoms may not directly correspond to the source of what’s causing the problem. Every health issue begins within one of the three body systems: your adrenal, digestive, or detoxification systems. Other body systems become unbalanced when one body system is not functioning normally, and this begins a stress cycle inside your body. Our wellness philosophy addresses the cause of your symptoms — rather than simply treating the symptoms alone — by balancing your three body systems so that the body functions optimally in a state of equilibrium.

The adrenal glands produce and regulate your stress hormones. Everyone experiences stress, but ideally, it dissipates, and the glands have time to rest and prepare for the next event. However, if your stress levels remain chronically high, your body will remain locked in a state of stress. If your stress hormone levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, your body’s ability to recover can be reduced, and the ability of your adrenals to make hormones can be compromised.

Can you recall times in your life when you felt stressed for long periods? How many of the below events have you experienced in the past year? Think back to your childhood: How many have you experienced throughout the course of your lifetime? If you can trace the origins of your health concerns back to the occurrence of one of these major stressors, you are an adrenal type.

– Death of a loved one

– Divorce or end of relationship

– Relationship difficulties, frequent arguments

– Change in residence

– Overwork, or termination of employment

– Pregnancy

– Addition to family

– Outstanding personal achievement (graduation, promotion)

– Financial stress (mortgage, loans)

– Personal injury or illness

Additionally, poor lifestyle choices take a toll on health of your adrenal glands. Do you engage in any of the below habits?

1. Frequent skipped meals

2. Regular consumption of refined sugar (processed foods, sweets, candy, sodas)

3. Need caffeine (coffee, colas) to get going

4. Too much or too little exercise

5. Poor sleep habits

At first, your body’s initial reaction to chronic stress is to produce higher levels of stress hormones, leaving you feeling wired or unable to relax. Because high levels of these hormones cannot be sustained, you’ll eventually become more fatigued. You may also experience weight gain because high stress hormone levels lead to an increase in body fat. Because your adrenal glands regulate your immune system, you may feel run down or more susceptible to illness when they are not functioning normally.

If you continue to experience excess unchecked stress, the adrenals eventually “burn out.” At this point, the glands become so fatigued that they can no longer properly respond to daily stress. Once your adrenals have been depleted and are unable to produce stress hormones, it becomes more and more difficult for the body to recover. Constant and more severe fatigue and low-level depression can appear in otherwise emotionally healthy people.

Stress hormone depletion impacts the female hormones progesterone and estrogen, as well as the predominant male hormone, testosterone. This can cause sex drive to diminish in both men and women. Symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, sweet cravings and headaches can be related to the failure of the adrenals to adapt to stress. Female hormone symptoms such as menstrual cramping, infertility, night sweats and hot flashes can also be related to adrenal insufficiency. Many women feel they are on an emotional roller coaster with their female hormones, and testosterone levels in men also suffer as a result of weak adrenal output.

When your adrenal glands have been functioning in overdrive for a period of time due to poor lifestyle habits or unchecked stress, other body systems begin to suffer as a result of the imbalance. Pain is the most obvious response from the body that something is out of balance, but you may also be experiencing chronic inflammation in other body systems as a result of chronic stress, poor diet, or undetected infection.

  • FREE RESOURCES

    Download this free resource for your own personal wellness plan to healthy living. 58 pages of lifestyle tips, diet and general education. Optin here ->

  • YOUR INFORMATION