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These days tired it is no longer enough to say you are plain old tired. Instead, it’s tired and wired or adrenally burnt out. It's so common these days that we've added new advice to our retreat programme to assist recovery from this syndrome.
However, confusingly a symptom of the new breed of burn-outs is that they don’t realise how tired they really are.
Instead, they are buzzing about in a state called hyper-arousal – which sounds kind of fun - but feeling not being able to fall asleep, or not getting enough quality sleep is no laughing matter.
Specialists think that our always-on culture has a lot to do with it. One large- scale study of British employees revealed only 15% felt revived by their sleep.
It comes back to the chief architect of your body’s stress response, the triangle-shaped adrenal glands that sit neatly atop your kidneys. One of the key hormones produced and released by your adrenal glands in response to stress is cortisol.
Cortisol is a vitally important hormone, involved in such key body operations as regulation of your blood pressure, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, the proper functioning of your immune system and inflammatory response. In other words, messing with it can prove harmful.
So, when you reach for a coffee jolt or a sugar high to get through the mornings and the subsequent drop in energy a few hours later triggers the adrenals to make even more cortisol. It is a vicious cycle where the body demands more and more help just to get through the day.
When you take away the false stimulants, as happens during a detox, it's like a kind of unmasking - the reality of what is going on in the body is plain to see. That's usually the point at which the client starts to plan longer-term lifestyle changes.
However, stress isn’t always bad. You’ll no doubt know that people respond to stress in a different way; some seem to shoulder it off, if indeed they get stressed at all, whilst for others all it may take is a messy kitchen or their partner not putting the top back on the toothpaste tube.
So, how do you know if you are wired and tired?
Are you jumpy, always-on and cannot seem to unwind or unplug. Do you jump to attention the minute alerts pings on your phone or laptop? Do you answering emails at 10pm, even when they could wait till the morning?
Healthy adrenal glands will secrete cortisol according to a circadian rhythm. Rising cortisol levels help us wake up in the morning. After its peak at approximately 0700-0800hrs, cortisol secretion drops through the rest of the day, often with a small dip in the afternoon between 1500-1700hrs – just when you feel a tea break coming on.
Stress can cause cortisol to break the rhythm.
Small spikes in cortisol can be helpful, offering a quick injection of increased immunity, better memory, heightened pain resistance and – in our “fight or flight” response to danger or hazard, a dollop of energy for our survival.
For some people a shift away from this healthy cycle feel more tired when they first wake up, often relying on caffeine and sugar to get through the first part of the day, but by the time of day we typically unwind, this person can feel too wired to fall asleep.
Eventually, there is a shift away from “wired and tired” to just plain exhausted. The wear and tear of having to adapt to prolonged stress disrupts the body’s normal balancing process and leaves us prone to various health problems.
For many people, stress leads to increased abdominal fat and hard to shift weight gain. The weight gain chronic stress often prompts is the worst type, being the sort of fat that contributes to heart attacks, strokes and the development of high levels of “bad LDL” cholesterol, and lowering the levels of “good HDL” cholesterol.
Diet is key. Eating a good breakfast, ideally containing protein, will serve up the amino acids that help you make hormones later in the day. A small snack of protein and fat (a handful of nuts or cottage cheese) before sleep is also good as it can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates, this will help to calm the brain down and allows the body to sleep better.
Exercise is also helpful too, it increases the flow of oxygen, glucose and water and stimulates the body’s production of feel-good endorphins. Getting the optimum amount of exercise can also benefit concentration.
You can get too much of a good thing however. Over-exercising, in my experience, is actually quite commonplace in the “wired and tired” type-A personality.