The silent enemy that’s stealing your sleep

…and the only prescription that will put your insomnia to bed for good

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. And yet, you’re still awake, pacing the house. Again.

And it only gets worse from there. When you do manage to get back to sleep, you’re still exhausted when the alarm goes off.

So you pull yourself out of bed in that all-too-familiar fog. You brew a pot of coffee. And you hope it’s enough to help drag you through your day, until you finally tumble back into bed, exhausted…

and completely unable to sleep.

If this vicious cycle sounds familiar, I want you to stop what you’re doing and listen. Maybe you’ve given up on the idea of waking in the morning, refreshed and full of energy. Maybe your doctor diagnosed you with insomnia and handed you a prescription for Ambien, Lunesta, or one of its cousins.

But before you head to the pharmacy out of sheer desperation, hear me out. Those sleeping pills aren’t going to fix anything. Because, chances are, insomnia isn’t really your problem.

The fact is, inability to sleep is just a symptom—not a disease. And in my clinical experience, the underlying cause is a diagnosis conventional medical doctors would never make. In fact, I would bet that they’ve never heard anything about it. And they certainly wouldn’t know the first thing about helping you fix it.

But I do. That’s why my practice is full of people who get incredible sleep every single night without dangerous drugs. And today, I’m going to tell you how you can, too.

How chronic fatigue is keeping you awake

You might think fatigue would lead to sleeping too much. But that couldn’t be less true. In fact, “fatigue” is exactly what leads to the inability to get quality sleep.

In my clinical experience, adrenal gland exhaustion is the most common culprit behind insomnia.

And one of the telltale signs of adrenal burnout is trouble sleeping. Particularly waking up around 3 a.m. every night. Why? To answer that question, let’s talk again about what adrenal fatigue is, and what it means for your body.

In simple terms, adrenal exhaustion sets in when stress overwhelms these glands’ ability to generate key fight-or-flight hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.

Your body releases these hormones to put you on alert in the face of danger—whether it’s a physical threat, illness or injury, a family crisis, or just rush-hour traffic. (It’s all the same to your body.)

When your adrenal glands are working properly, they stop releasing these hormones shortly after the perceived danger has passed. But if you’re under too much stress for too long, things start to go haywire.

Your cortisol levels stay high. Your body stops “listening” to it properly. And eventually, your adrenal glands “burn out” and stop producing enough stress hormones, even when you need them.

And it’s this confused state that’s really driving your insomnia.

Cortisol in particular plays an important role in managing your body’s restorative sleep cycles. When you’re healthy, cortisol levels peak around 8 a.m. You hop out of bed ready to start the day—and you don’t even reach for the snooze button on your alarm.

On the other hand, cortisol levels should be at their lowest between midnight and 4 a.m.—when most people are sleeping soundly.

If your cortisol levels are high when they shouldn’t be, you’ll be too wide awake to sleep. But cortisol also plays a role in blood sugar regulation. And if it dips too low, it could take your glucose levels with it.

This floods your body with adrenaline. And it wakes you up in a wired, desperate search for emergency fuel—usually in the form of carbs or sugar—right around 3 in the morning.

So those middle-of-the-night fridge raids? Well they actually point to some serious hormone problems. Fix the imbalances, and you won’t be waking up starving in the middle of the night any more. In fact, you won’t be waking up in the middle of the night at all.

A whole new take on tackling insomnia

In order to get better sleep, you have to get your body’s stress response back into balance.

Unfortunately, though, eliminating stress simply isn’t enough. When you’re dealing with adrenal exhaustion, you need to do more than just stop the damage. You need to repair it.

And there’s not a sleeping pill anywhere that can do that for you.

I wrote an article about adrenal fatigue in the April 2013 issue. And the protocol I outlined in that article is still the best starting point for treating adrenal fatigue.

But that’s just the first step. It’s time to take your battle with insomnia to the next level—and put it to bed for good.

And as always, it starts with your diet.

When you’re slogging through the day, running on fumes, it’s tempting to rely on “pick-me-ups” like coffee and candy bars. But these quick fixes are only making your problem worse.

Both coffee and sugary foods crack the whip on your adrenal glands. And remember, you don’t want your adrenals to work harder. You want to nurse them back to health. And you can do that by following my New Hamptons Health Miracle.

Protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. Eating this way will keep your blood sugar on track—and help restore balance to your hormone levels. And that will take enormous pressure off of your adrenal glands.

Once you’ve cleaned up your diet, it’s time to take a closer look at your surroundings…

Power off to promote sound sleep

It’s a connected world with stimuli everywhere. So your bedroom has to be a safe haven.

Go there when you’re ready to sleep. But do everything else in another part of your home. If that’s not possible, then at the very least, shut down all your electronic devices 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep, at a minimum.

And yes, that includes your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or any other reading tablet.

Recent research from the Mayo Clinic showed that the bright-light diodes that illuminate devices like smartphones, e-readers, and tablets impede secretion of melatonin. And melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. (Among other important roles, as I mentioned in the article “Popular sleep aid takes on cancer, diabetes, migraines, and more” in the September 2013 issue.)

Needless to say, television comes with the same risks.

So make sure your room is completely dark. Power off all electronic devices before you get into bed (or, better yet, keep them out of your bedroom altogether). Anything that may have a light—from your alarm clock to a surge protector—can make a difference in the quality of your sleep. So they should all be turned off.

If you must keep something on (like your alarm clock), at the very least tape a piece of paper over the light to cover it up. Get room-darkening shades for any window that lets in light from streetlamps. And if this still isn’t enough, sleep with an eye mask. It may feel strange at first, but you’ll get used to it. And it’s an adjustment worth making if it helps you get the sleep you need.

Oh, and one more thing. Wear ear plugs. Sound pollution can keep you awake too. And I’m not just talking about sirens or rowdy neighbors. Even if you live in a rural area, the wind, the creaking of the house, the heating/air conditioning, the appliances… all of these things make noise that can keep your adrenal glands in fight-or-flight mode. And that’s exactly what you’re trying to avoid.

Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments to your diet and your sleeping environment, there’s just one more step left to getting the best sleep you can…

Five supplements to help you sleep like a baby

There are five nutritional supplements in particular I prescribe to sleepless patients, above and beyond my basic adrenal support protocol. And I’ll begin with the two supplements that you should always take:

  • 5-HTP. This will induce drowsiness at bedtime. But it also works on neurotransmitter levels by raising serotonin and other key chemicals in your brain. This helps to regulate your body’s sleep/wake cycle, as well as to support your adrenal glands.

Safe and effective doses range anywhere from 100 mg to 5,000 mg at bedtime. (Though most people don’t need more than 1,000 mg.) It’s a big range, but start with the smallest dose and work your way up, 100 mg at a time, until you notice a difference in how quickly and easily you’re able to drift off to sleep.

If it happens the first night, great! But don’t fret if it takes a couple of weeks. 5-HTP is very safe.

  • SAM-e. This amazing amino acid helps regulate neurotransmitters. And they’re just as important as your hormones in the pursuit of deep, restorative sleep and adrenal health. Both are responsible for sending critical messages that regulate your body’s biological rhythms. I recommend 400 mg every morning.

Unless you’re already taking antidepressant medications, 5-HTP and SAM-e should form the core of your sleep restoring supplement regimen. From there, you can mix and match these next three nutrients to find the combination that delivers the best results for you:

  • L-theanine. This is the calming agent in green tea. It helps relax your mind so you—and your body—can forget about the troubles of the day.  I recommend 200 mg 30 minutes before bedtime and 200 mg in the morning.
  • GABA. This is a neurotransmitter that helps your brain relax. I recommend 800 mg 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Melatonin. I really can’t overstate the importance of melatonin. Your body generates this hormone not only to help you sleep, but also to shore up your immune system. And not surprisingly, production drops significantly with age.

Melatonin and cortisol also fight each other for dominance. And if your cortisol levels are elevated at night—as they often are in cases of adrenal exhaustion—this could interfere with melatonin’s activity.

That’s why I recommend 3 mg at bedtime to start. But if you need to, you can work your way up to a maximum of 21 mg.

You’ll likely need to continue to take these supplements until you get your adrenals back on track, and your energy—and sleep quality—starts to soar again. Then, you can gradually wean yourself off of them when you feel ready.

But remember, like I’ve mentioned before, it can take as long as a year to reach this point. So don’t give up if you’re not seeing immediate results.

Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about two twin conditions. If you’re not sleeping, your adrenals can’t repair themselves. And if your adrenals are exhausted, you can bet you won’t be getting quality sleep. So addressing one issue always requires addressing the other.

It’s a complex problem, no doubt about it. But it doesn’t have to be complicated to solve. All you need is a single, comprehensive plan—one that covers enough bases to allow your body to regain its natural balance.

And now, you have one.

Shining a nightlight on burnt out adrenals

Do you suffer from…

  • Chronic waking around 3 a.m.?
  • Urgent carb cravings—especially late at night?
  • Unbearable sleepiness (but difficulty actually sleeping)?
  • Clouded thoughts?
  • Excessive caffeine use to get through a day? (In other words, more than just a cup or two of coffee in the morning.)

Are you…

  • Stressed out from work, children, life?
  • Working long hours only to come home and take care of household matters?
  • Eating poorly?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, guess what? You aren’t an insomniac. You have adrenal fatigue, and it’s stealing your sleep.

But if you want solid proof, two simple blood tests can deliver it.

First, have your fasting cortisol levels checked. If they’re too low (less than 10) or too high (greater than 20), then you may have a problem. And if your fasting DHEA-s levels are off, too, adrenal fatigue is a given.

DHEA-s is another hormone that originates in your adrenal glands. Your level will vary with your age and gender. But generally speaking, they should fall around 400 for men and 300 for women.

My tried-and-true protocol for battling adrenal exhaustion…

There are eight supplements I recommend to all my patients who need strong adrenal support:

ü  DHEA. This is a hormone that will give your adrenal gland a much-needed rest. I recommend anywhere from 5 to 50 mg per day, depending on the case. (But do not take this if you have a hormonally related form of cancer or if you’re a pregnant and lactating woman.)

ü  Rhodiola rosea. This is an adaptogenic herb. Which simply means that it can help to steel your body—including your adrenals—against stress. I recommend 30 mg, three times per day.

ü  Schizandra chinensis. This works a lot like Rhodiola, and helps to stabilize your adrenal gland. I recommend 60 mg, three times per day.

ü  Ashwagandha extract. This is yet another adaptogen that guards against stress, and enhances immunity. I recommend 150 mg, three times per day.

ü  Eleutherococcus sinensis root extract. Also known as Siberian Ginseng—and another adaptogen. I recommend 150 mg, three times per day.

ü  Panax ginseng. This is also a classic adaptogen. I recommend 50 mg three times per day.

ü  Phosphatidylserene. This is a component of your cell membranes—and helps to heal damage done by stress. I recommend 50 mg, three times per day

ü  Licorice. For detoxification, I recommend 10 mg, three times per day.

Just bear in mind that it could be six months or more before you start to really see a difference. Your adrenals didn’t burn out overnight…and they won’t recharge overnight either. So stick with the protocol, even if you think it’s not working. Because it will pay off in the end.