When life becomes overwhelming, and when you allow stress to take over, you can end up feeling exhausted but on edge - a state we call being ‘tired and wired’. Often symptomised by a feeling of constant tiredness combined with a frustrating inability to sleep, research shows that those who report feeling ‘tired and wired’ are often suffering from insomnia, burnout, psychological fatigue, and physical exhaustion - to name but a few common symptoms.
Does this sound like you? Then it may be that you are suffering from high cortisol levels, which sap your energy but leave you too wound up to really rest and get proper sleep. But there are ways of helping yourself.
What Causes a State of Feeling ‘Tired and Wired’?
Aside from being a great little rhyming phrase, tired and wired captures the essence of those who have what’s known as HPA axis dysfunction - that is, their cortisol levels are high, and their neurotransmitter has become unbalanced. With cortisol responsible for controlling your mood, stress levels, and energy, keeping it balanced is important - so when these levels are excessively high, typically there is a problem.
Think back to the last time you found yourself lying in bed, tired but completely unable to sleep. Many people believe this is a sign of burnout, and that it follows periods of excessive stress - leading to anxiety, depression, elevated blood pressure and subsequent cardiovascular issues, insomnia, cognitive problems, and more. In short, it can have huge consequences to your ability to function normally. One thing we can’t see on the surface, however, is the effect on our sympathetic nervous system and our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
Hence the HPA axis dysfunction and imbalance in our cortisol levels.
The solution? We need to rebalance our cortisol levels. But first we need to understand a little more about what causes the HPA dysfunction.
How Does HYPA Dysfunction Occur?
There are typically four stressors which make HPA dysfunction worse. These are:
- Chronic sleep disorders - When you don’t sleep well, you interrupt the production of the right hormones at the right time. A long term issue with sleep means that your body will raise cortisol levels in the evening, thus making it hard for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Unhealthy food choices - cortisol is the hormone which regulates insulin production. When cortisol levels increase, the body believes it needs to hold onto glucose to handle pending stress. This creates a vicious cycle whereby when you consume sugary foods, you end up having a blood sugar crash, which in turn produces more cortisol and starts the cycle again.
- Inflammation - cortisol is an anti-inflammatory, but when levels are too high it has the opposite effect. Chronic inflammation signals cortisol release through the HPA axis, so when this is imbalanced you get an incorrect level of cortisol sent out and end up feeling wired and overstressed.
- Emotional stress - highly emotional experiences lead to a strong HPA axis response and a rise in cortisol levels. This can be dependent on the emotional stability of the individual, however in most cases it leads to the tired and wired feeling.
What’s the Solution?
To regulate cortisol levels, we need to learn how to control our HPA axis stressors - reducing inflammation, exercising, and practising a consistent and healthy bedtime routine which trains our body to expect and become used to sleep at the right time.
Some tips include:
- Eating a light meal in the evening, rather than a heavy dinner. This should include plenty of protein and vegetables, which are easy to digest.
- Limit your use of electronic devices right before bed.
- Fit exercise into your daily routine where possible.
- Reduce inflammatory foods from your diet, for example gluten, dairy, and refined sugar.
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