MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Under normal circumstances, the typical American is under constant stress to perform at home and work. In our world, we don’t deal with the “typical” American.
Our patients come from all branches of military service, and are under tremendous amounts of stress as the wars rage all around the globe where 10, 12, and even 14-hour work days are the norm. Families are subjected to being apart for holidays, repetitive moves, temporary duty assignments and deployments, which bring stress to our patients unlike those seen in the civilian population.
Proper sleep is imperative to help the body heal and recover. Armed with this knowledge, we need to be able to offer our patients a non-pharmaceutical option to help them get a good night’s sleep. With the ever present concern of becoming addicted to habit-forming medication, it is our duty to try to offer options that take these medications out of play. Let’s take a look at basic physiology.
Throughout the day, our bodies respond to stress by releasing cortisol from our adrenal glands. Cortisol is responsible for raising blood sugar levels. Due to the constant and higher levels of stress our patients are under on a daily basis, their adrenals are overtaxed and become fatigued. This is where the problem begins. After our last meal for the day, our blood sugar levels initially spike, then slowly drop throughout the night as we sleep. Our body needs to find a way to keep our blood sugar levels up while we sleep, in order for our brain to continue to do its job and keep us alive, therefore the adrenal gland is targeted.
When blood sugar levels drop to a certain level, the brain sends a signal to our adrenal glands to release cortisol, thus raising blood sugar levels to a steady level, keeping us asleep, so the brain can use its primary fuel source of glucose.
Unfortunately for some people, due to their abnormally high stress levels, their adrenals are shot, and the cortisol they need to raise blood sugar levels is not available. So how does the adrenal gland react? Instead of releasing cortisol to raise blood sugar levels to a safe and operative level to keep us asleep, the adrenal glands release adrenaline, resulting in waking up from sleep with a racing heart, in an alert state. The constant up and down, disruptive sleep throughout the night leads to many of the health concerns we deal with on a daily basis.
So what’s the solution? Simple. For many people, besides finding ways to help them deal and eliminate their stress during the day, we can have them eat a protein rich meal with complex carbohydrates about an hour prior to going to bed. This should provide the necessary carbs to get them through the night without waking up and avoid their adrenals from releasing epinephrine in the middle of the night. If that does not work, simply try to eat a bite or two of a carbohydrate food such as a banana.
This simple technique does not work for everyone, but at least feel comfortable knowing you tried a natural solution.