Monday, 14 September 2015

Night terrors

One of my most frustrating symptoms is waking up at 3am, feeling hungry and needing to eat before I'm able to go back to sleep. This was quite acute earlier this year before I was diagnosed, but still blights my nights at the moment, especially after an evening training session.

After some research online and in books I've discovered that we wake in the early hours due to increased cortisol hormone. Normal cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest at night. This is supposed to wake us at a normal waking time, but sometimes kicks in way too early, often because we're low in glucose. This hypoglycemia can be due to not eating enough earlier in the evening, however I think it is also linked to poor blood sugar balance and adrenal fatigue.

Courgette spirals
I'm like most people in enjoying my carbs through the day - oats for breakfast, grains at lunch and maybe some potatoes in the evening. Add in my usual sugary snacks and it can lead to a blood sugar level that spikes up and down through the day, resulting in peaks at inconvenient times like the middle of the night. That's the theory at least. I could get my cortisol tested by a private lab but I'm not sure the expense justifies the result. The solution would be the same whether I do the test or not - what I need to do is balance my blood sugar a little better during the day. That means cutting out the refined sugar snacks, replacing them with protein, and always eating carbs with protein and fat. It also means planning meals that are nutrient-dense rather than carbohydrate-heavy. So instead of grains, pasta or potatoes I choose mashed root vegetables or make spaghetti with courgette spirals instead. It's taking a while to re-train my body as it's craving the sugar it was used to, and maybe that where the 'terrors' fit in... it's just my body in the final throes of defiance!

Adrenal fatigue also messes with cortisol levels - in the early stages of fatigue, which is commonly caused by chronic stresses such as work and overtraining, our cortisol levels might be high for far longer than they should, meaning we feel a bit wired and can't sleep well. However as the condition worsens, cortisol drops low and stays low so we struggle to get up in the mornings and remain in a brain fog for most of the day. I've no doubt that earlier this year my adrenals were getting a battering along with the rest of my body, so fatigue could be a factor in my symptoms however the solution is to rest and eat well so I'm on my way to recovery already. There are some herbs worth taking to support adrenal function, such as ashwaganda, which are featured in the green supplement I take daily from Nuzest.

Although many nutritionists advise not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime, I'm finding that a small protein and low GI carb before bed is proving useful in keeping me asleep, especially after a session in the pool. My favourite is sliced apple with peanut butter.

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