Just how tired are you, anyway? Did you know that your body goes through stages of fatigue?
In a body that is functioning correctly, scientists have observed that your cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest at midnight. Another hormone, DHEA, must also be maintained at a certain level, since hormones such as cortisol are made from DHEA.
The Alarm Stage
When your body reacts to stress, it does so by increasing your cortisol levels. You can handle this increase in cortisol production only as long as you have enough DHEA to support it.
The Resistance Stage
These high levels of cortisol will tend to make you gain weight. To conserve energy, your body will also begin to down-regulate your metabolism and body temperature. Your DHEA levels will also quietly begin to go down. These mechanisms are designed to protect you. If you were to rest at this stage, your body would be able to heal. But if not, your body will have to resist the effects of high cortisol.
As stress continues, with high levels of cortisol but without DHEA from which to manufacture it, you’ll begin to feel increased anxiety and panic, combined with exhaustion.
Soon, your body realizes it cannot continue the high levels of cortisol. Your morning cortisol levels will fall. You’ll notice that you have a very hard time waking up in the morning. By late afternoon and evening, though, you may feel a burst of adrenaline that makes it very difficult to fall asleep. You might dismiss this by saying, “I’m just not a morning person,” but in reality, your hormone levels are mixed up. What’s worse, the higher levels of cortisol in the evening will tend to either make it difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime or will wake you up between 3 and 5 a.m.
The Exhaustion Stage
If you have no reserves of DHEA, yet you continuously ask your body for cortisol that it cannot make, you’ll eventually hit a stage of exhaustion at all hours of the day and night. Women at this stage of fatigue are often bedridden (or wish they were!).
You can see an example of these three stages of fatigue if you think about your metabolism. When your body puts up a resistance to stress, it will do so by slowing down the various parts of your body, in an attempt to conserve energy. To conserve energy, your body will cool down your body temperature, store fat for a future emergency, slow down your fertility, and send resources away from “unnecessary” things such as hair and skin (resulting in dry hair and skin). You’ll feel tired and will require caffeine or other stimulants to keep going. You’ll have food cravings, as your body tries to build up its resources.
If you enter the exhaustion stage, your body will not be able to even keep your vital organs running. You might lose weight because of a loss of appetite or diarrhea. Your kidneys will lose their function, and your blood pressure will drop. Your emotional state will weaken, and you’ll panic in a crowd or if you hear a loud noise. You may start crying for no apparent reason, and you might not be able to stop. You’ll probably feel depressed.
I have found that it’s helpful to track some of my body’s symptoms, so that I can accurately diagnose my stage of fatigue.
To track body temperature, purchase an inexpensive digital thermometer, preferably one with a memory. These usually cost around $5 at a pharmacy.
Place the thermometer next to your bed. When you wake up in the morning, before you sit up or stand up, place the thermometer in your mouth. If your temperature is below 97.5 degrees, this is a sign that your metabolism is being turned down. You are at least in the resistance stage (#2) of fatigue.
If so, you should also track your daytime temperatures for at least three days. You will take your temperature at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. for three days. Average the three daily temperatures. Are they steady and low? If so, your metabolism has started to go down, but your adrenal glands are able to handle the stress. You should be able to heal quickly.
Do your temperatures jump all over? If they are varying more than 2/10s of a degree throughout the day, your adrenal glands show signs of damage. You will need to be very consistent in your efforts to heal, and you will also need to be realistic in how long it will take you to heal.
You can find more detailed instructions about your body temperature at http://www.drrind.com/therapies/metabolic-temperature-graph.
Your blood pressure is another clue to how well your body is handling stress. In the alarm and beginning resistance stages, your blood pressure often increases. However, many women have low blood pressure, yet they’ve been told that it’s normal and even good.
This simply isn’t true. The optimal blood pressure is 120/80. If your blood pressure is normally lower than this, such as 95/65, your adrenal glands are fatigued.
A sign of entering the exhaustion stage (#3) is that your blood pressure drops when you stand up. Low blood pressure often causes symptoms such as feeling light-headed or dizzy when you stand up quickly. Normally, your adrenal glands are instrumental in helping your blood pump efficiently, especially when change positions quickly. However, if your adrenal glands are tired, your heart simply can’t pump blood to your brain quickly enough, leaving you with seeing stars.
You can purchase your own blood pressure cuff at a pharmacy. I prefer a wrist cuff, because it’s easy to use. Mine has a memory so that I don’t have to remember to write everything down.
Another hormone that your adrenal glands manufacture is called aldosterone. In a healthy person, aldosterone helps your body maintain proper levels of sodium and potassium. If those levels become unbalanced, the muscles in your eyes cannot properly dilate your pupils.
To test your eye muscles, go into a darkened room at home and ask a friend to shine a flashlight toward your pupils and hold it for a minute or so. Have your friend watch your pupils. The pupils should constrict and stay small as the light is shined from the side of your face. However, if your adrenal glands are exhausted, the pupils will get small at first but soon get larger again or flutter back and forth as the muscles attempt to hold the pupils steady. You can see a video of what this looks like here.
Testing Your Hormone Levels
If you suspect an adrenal problem, you would be very wise to have your hormone levels tested. I recommend saliva testing, having used it myself and having studied about the accuracy of various types of hormone testing (blood, urine, and saliva).
One source of saliva testing is available online, if you have difficulty finding a doctor to order the testing for you. The price is high, but the results are very helpful in determining your stage of adrenal fatigue and pinpointing exactly which hormones are unbalanced.