Let’s briefly review what we know about stress and sleep: We know that inadequate sleep creates health problems and worsening symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It creates conditions such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, cognitive problems, headaches, etc. We also know that all forms of stress can lead to medical conditions as well because the body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, which depletes all the essential chemicals, hormones and nutrients from the body.
As I have discussed in previous posts, we are all born with a stress-coping savings account that includes chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, norepinephrine, HGH, DHEA, and many others. These chemicals help us deal with stress and keep the body functioning properly.
Whenever we are exposed to any form of stress – whether it be chemical, emotional, physical, or mental – we withdraw from this stored-up account. Over time, without adequate deposits, we are completely exhausted of these essential stress-coping chemicals.
Think of it literally as a bank account. If you are constantly spending by using a debit card, but you aren’t putting any money into the account, what will happen? You will overdraw and owe money to the bank! The same sort of thing happens in the body with these chemicals. Under stress, your body naturally takes out stress-coping hormones, which are usually then re-deposited by healthy diet, exercise, and restorative sleep.
Interestingly, withdrawal from this account can be triggered by just about anything from odors to noises to bright or irritating lights. You may have already noticed that the longer you have had your illness, the less tolerant you are of these external factors. It’s like using a credit card when you have no income coming in to pay it off at the end of the month.
During prolonged emotional stressful situations, the body releases excess amounts of the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin. These trigger the brain to release the feel-good hormone, serotonin, on an almost constant basis. Therefore, prolonged stress and poor dietary and lifestyle habits will completely deplete the body’s serotonin stores and levels. FMS and CFS occur when these stores are overdrawn and you don’t make adequate deposits.
How are you making withdrawals? By simply being awake. Some everyday situations that cause stress include:
- Traffic jams
- Pollution and environmental irritants
- Poor or inadequate sleep
- Long work hours
- Stress at work
- Mental disorders
- Medical problems
- Financial problems
- Relationship or family problems
How can you make deposits? Healthy eating habits, proper exercise, supplementation, and deep, restorative sleep!
During delta-wave sleep, the body automatically restores various life-sustaining chemicals and hormones like HGH, serotonin, DHEA, dopamine, cortisol, GABA, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, norepinephrine, and many others. The more stress you’re under, the more deep sleep you will need to restore those chemicals because your body is using more of them during the stressful time. This can become a vicious cycle: Stress can actually cause poor sleep due to lower serotonin levels and poor sleep can lead to more stress. So what gives?
You will need to be diligent and make sure you have adequate serotonin levels and are making constant deposits into your stress-coping savings account. Sound impossible? It’s not.
For the last 18 years, I have worked with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients who have been suffering for years with worsening symptoms and a frustratingly long list of prescription medications that don’t seem to help very much or for very long. I have found that once these patients are able to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, it’s much easier to control their other symptoms such as diffuse pain, depression, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction.
You may be asking at this point, where do I start?
The good news is that you don’t need to take yourself off any of your current medications. My goal is to make it so you need less of them in the future, but taking you off them cold turkey is extremely dangerous. You will find, however, that by introducing supplements like a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, 5-HTP, and if needed adrenal supplements to your daily regimen will go a long way to helping you sleep better and feel good again.
Bottom line is that you need to replenish serotonin levels in order to get better sleep. During waking hours, you can take measures like deep breathing exercises, yoga, proper eating habits, etc. These are essential practices to reducing stress levels. Replacing serotonin levels by supplementing with amino acids like tryptophan with the use of 5-HTP is a good place to start to assist with the chemical restoration.
It may take a few months for your body to start to normalize, especially if you have gone many years without adequate sleep, but you will most certainly feel and see the difference, sometimes in a matter of days, other times it may take a little more time. Have patience, and remember that it will be worth it in the end.