Chronic Insomnia? Treat Your Adrenals
Scientists have found increased blood levels of stress hormones in people with chronic insomnia, suggesting that these individuals suffer from sustained, round-the-clock activation of the body’s system for responding to stress.
For this reason, the researchers suggest, doctors who treat insomnia should go beyond improving the quality or quantity of their patients’ sleep and seek to reduce this hyper-arousal, which is a risk factor for both psychiatric and medical illness.
Investigators monitored the sleep of 11 patients with insomnia and 13 people without sleep disturbances (the “control” group). Blood was collected every 30 minutes for 24 hours, and levels of stress hormones — adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol were monitored.
Average levels of both hormones were significantly higher in the insomniacs than in the control group.
They found that the insomniacs with the highest degree of sleep disturbance secreted the highest amount of cortisol, particularly in the evening and nighttime hours,” Dr.Gontzas said in a prepared statement. This means that insomniacs are experiencing hormonal changes in their bodies, which prevents them from sleeping.
The investigators propose that the physical mechanism of chronic insomnia differs from that of sleep loss, with chronic insomnia being a disorder of hyper-arousal present throughout the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Increased production of stress hormones is likely to lead not only to depression, but also to high blood pressure, obesity and osteoporosis.
This information could help doctors who are treating insomniacs refocus their therapeutic goals. Instead of aiming to simply improve nighttime sleep, doctors may now work to decrease the levels of physiologic arousal.
Clearly, persistent insomnia is a huge clue that something is desperately wrong with one’s balance in life. Left untreated, insomnia can destroy one’s health. This is particularly true for perimenopausal women who are experiencing hot flashes. Many of these women respond to the herb black cohosh, and this herb is the most commonly prescribed herbal medicine by medical doctors in Germany. I have found that perimenopausal insomnia will frequently lead to depression unless it is treated. I find overall, that an effective cardiovascular aerobic exercise program where one is raising their heart rate to 75% of their maximum for 45 minutes several times a week, to be an effective solution to many of the adrenal stresses that contribute to insomnia. The other trick is to avoid coffee, strong tea and too much chocolate or other strong stimulatory foods in the diet.
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism August 2001; 86:3787-3794