Adrenal Fatigue – Why Good Old-Fashioned Sleep Just Might Be the Best Medicine

It seems like such an obvious answer to fatigue and exhaustion. Yet, sleep as a remedy for adrenal fatigue is a simple – and not to mention free – but, often overlooked solution.

For many women in perimenopause, adrenal fatigue is a common issue brought on in part by fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels. But it can also be brought on and even exacerbated by simply doing too much and not resting enough.

As natural multi-taskers, women are accustomed to juggling multiple demands and daily responsibilities. As nurturers, they are also accustomed to sacrificing their wants and needs for the greater good of others, with sleep often becoming the first casualty of that sacrifice. Without adequate sleep or time away from daily demands to decompress and relax, burn out and exhaustion can occur – both symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

In the most basic terms, adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are no longer able to produce adequate amounts of the stress hormones cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline, in order to help us manage and cope with daily demands and stress.

It’s important to note that regardless of the source or duration of stress in our life, the adrenal glands respond the same, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us for the fight or flight response, and DHEA to help us physically and emotionally recover from the stress.

The fight or flight response is the body’s built-in survival mechanism. Its primary purpose is self-preservation. However, if the physical body remains in a constant state of high-alert, the very processes which are designed to protect and preserve our life begin to break-down and stress the body.

If constantly called upon to prepare us for the fight or flight response with no time to fully recover, the adrenal glands become depleted and exhausted, and unable to respond adequately. Once this occurs, you will begin to manifest symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

Two of the more obvious symptoms of adrenal fatigue are extreme burn-out and exhaustion. But adrenal fatigue also includes many other symptoms as well, such as:

  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Craving salt
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Decreased ability to handle stress
  • Less tolerance
  • Increased effort to get normal tasks done
  • Taking longer to recover from illness, stress, or trauma
  • Light-headedness when you stand up
  • Mild depression
  • Increased symptoms of PMS
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety & irritability
  • Hair loss

Why Sleep is the Best Medicine for Adrenal Fatigue

Physicians and healthcare practitioners often treat adrenal fatigue in perimenopausal women by providing nutritional supplements and hormones. According to Dr. Christianne Northrup, M.D., and author of The Wisdom of Menopause, nutritional supplements and hormones to treat adrenal fatigue is sometimes necessary. But in the long run, she says, adrenal fatigue is better treated without them.

In fact, Dr. Northrup says that supplementing the adrenal glands for too long, or in doses that are too high, can exacerbate adrenal fatigue and result in permanent depression of a healthy adrenal function. Adrenal fatigue is better treated, she says, by first addressing the underlying issues in your life which may be causing the stress.

Are you doing too much? Are you working long hours away from home and spending too little time with your family? Are you saying yes when you should be saying no to excessive demands on your time? Are there emotional issues that need to be addressed? Are there major life issues such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or a change in employment? All of these things can and do bring great stress into women’s lives, and call upon the adrenal glands to help women cope and manage.

Without addressing these issues and making the life changes necessary to reduce stress and strain in their lives, women are not only taxing the adrenal glands to capacity but also setting themselves up for stress-related illnesses.

Sleep is the next line of defense against adrenal fatigue according to Dr. Northrup, saying that she herself sometimes sleeps as much as 10 hours at a time to enable her body to restore itself and recover from fatigue.

Without sufficient sleep, women can also suffer from mood swings, weight gain, increased irritability, memory loss, lack of focus, and of course, fatigue. Sleep deprivation can also cause hormone imbalance, which further exacerbates adrenal fatigue, a weakened immune system, and even high blood pressure.

If you think you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, it is important to see your physician for a proper diagnosis. Following the protocol for prescriptions and supplements is essential to recover from adrenal fatigue, in addition to dietary changes and moderate exercise.

But, remember, sleep is essential for your body to repair itself, heal itself, and rejuvenate itself. When it comes to adrenal fatigue it just might also be your best medicine.


Northrup, Christianne, M.D., (2006) The Wisdom of Menopause. New York, New York: Bantam Dell