Are you up at night – tossing and turning? Worried about what’s going to happen? Waiting forever to fall back to sleep? And just as you do, the alarm rings and you’ve got to get up. Or worse, you never fall back to sleep at all…
We all know that stress affects our sleep. But why are you still not sleeping months, maybe years after a stressful event? And how long does it take your body to get back into balance?
First of all, it matters when the stressful event occurred. If it’s an immediate stressor like what we’re going through with COVID-19 right now, it’s going to take at least three months of hypothalamic balancing to settle down your overexcited HPA – hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal – axis.
The HPA axis can become so excited by a stressor that you continue to produce way too much adrenaline and way too much cortisol for long after the event. And it’s going to take 90 days to reset your hypothalamic control of your circadian rhythm so that you can sleep through the night.
When you’re under a major stressor, your sleep is interrupted because your cortisol levels are running high all the time. If you’re in fight or flight mode, you can’t afford to go to sleep. And high cortisol levels suppress the production of melatonin – so you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
After about 90 days of hypothalamic balancing, your HPA axis calms down and your melatonin production normalizes.
Now if the stressor happened a long time ago, let’s say seven or eight years ago, it’s going to be three months of hypothalamic balancing plus another seven or eight months to get completely back into balance.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to feel better sooner. Absolutely, you’ll start sleeping better usually within the first 4-6 weeks of hypothalamic support. But for your entire hormonal system, your neuroendocrine system to be in balance, it’s going to take longer to completely recover from the stressor. Because you’ve been out of balance for so long, you will probably experience a PTSD recurring response related to the stressful event that’s been contributing to the insomnia.
Of course, everybody’s looking for that quick fix. We’re looking for that one pill or that one shot or that one meditation that’ll completely stop all of our symptoms, but it just doesn’t work that way. Real healing takes some time.
The re-triggered stressor puts your hypothalamus out of balance and still acting as if it’s in the fight or flight mode, like a tiger is chasing you, long after the stressful event is over.
If that stressor is still coming up even in your thoughts, even if it’s not real anymore, but you’re dreaming about it, you’re remembering it, you’re getting triggered by something that’s in your environment, and your body reacts like the event just happened.
Let’s say you’re afraid of spiders, you don’t have to have a real spider in front of you. Just a picture of a spider will give you the shivers. It’s the same thing with a PTSD response. It can be anything that triggers the stress reaction – a smell, a sound, the way somebody looks at you, that elicit that response.
And immediately you go into a fight or flight reaction. And the hypothalamus is like, “Oh my gosh, we got to get on alert. We’re either fighting this danger, or we’ve got to run away from this thing and stay on alert.”
And because your hypothalamus controls your circadian rhythm, that’s going to interfere with your entire circadian rhythm, your day/night cycles. We think that the pineal gland, located in the crown chakra, that little tiny gland that makes melatonin, controls your sleep cycles. But sleep is actually controlled by your hypothalamus.
Your hypothalamus is an interesting organ because it’s not protected by the blood brain barrier. All the rest of the brain is protected by the blood brain barrier, but the hypothalamus isn’t. So it is exposed to things that the rest of your brain isn’t exposed to. And that’s good. And it can also be bad.
If it’s toxins, it’s bad. If it’s infection, it’s bad. But if it’s nutrition, if it’s information from the environment or messages delivered through the blood, it’s a good thing.
One bit of vital information that your hypothalamus is exposed to is light messages. Your optic nerves cross right around your hypothalamus and tell your hypothalamus that it’s either day or night. Not knowing that you’re looking at a digital screen after dusk – you give your hypothalamus the wrong message – which interferes with your sleep.
Your hypothalamus also responds to cytochrome messages from cells in your skin that send light messages to tell your hypothalamus whether it’s day or night. So you could be wearing a blackout shade over your eyes, but if light is pouring onto your skin, your hypothalamus is still going to react like it’s daytime. You may feel like you’re asleep, but it’s a very, very light sleep, not the deep REM sleep you need. All because of the light on your skin is telling your hypothalamus that it’s daytime.
So that’s why it’s so so important that you sleep in the complete dark. And that you’re not exposed to digital screens after dark because the blue light from these screens interferes with your melatonin production.
When the sun goes down and your hypothalamus perceives that it’s dark, it will go ahead and tell your pineal gland to start producing melatonin. Remember, all it takes is a tiny bit of light to immediately bottom out your melatonin production. So lights out once you’re in bed.
As soon as the sun comes up in the morning, your hypothalamus is immediately aroused and it produces dopamine. Dopamine – that stimulating neurotransmitter that gets our day going – and more importantly shuts down your prolactin.
Prolactin is the other nocturnal hormone – which is rarely mentioned – but is super important.
Prolactin peaks about three hours after melatonin and stays high for eight hours. Prolactin’s job at night is to put you in a sedated mode so that your immune system can do its job. Your immune system works best at night under the influence of high nocturnal prolactin levels. That’s when it cleans house to get any viruses out of your system, attacks cancer cells, and get rid of bacteria and fungus. Prolactin must return to low daytime levels or you’ll feel like you’re sleepwalking.
So at dawn, hypothalamic dopamine is what turns down prolactin. And turns on cortisol releasing factor because your hypothalamus needs cortisol to release stored sugar and feed it and the rest of your brain. It can’t wait until you have breakfast because it’s going to take a little while to digest that food. So the hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to produce enough cortisol to get some sugar and allow it to function. Cortisol spikes every waking morning, after you eat, when you exercise, and if you get stressed.
Not in the middle of the night! If all of a sudden the lights turn on, the hypothalamus is going to respond as if it’s morning by triggering a cortisol spike. So if you have a cortisol spike because you’re stressed out, you’re anxious, you’re worried, you had a PTSD reaction to something that happened during your day and you’re kind of on edge, your hypothalamus is not going to allow your pineal gland to make enough melatonin to put you into deep sleep because it thinks you’re in danger. It wouldn’t behoove you to go into a deep sleep if there’s a tiger right outside that cave trying to get to you. Right? It’s a survival mechanism.
In order to sleep deeply through the night, the goal is for your hypothalamus to be in perfect balance. And that takes about 90 days of support. I personally use and recommend patients use – Genesis Gold®.
For my patients that have debilitating long standing insomnia, I’ll actually have them take Sacred Seven® amino acids with their Genesis Gold® to heal their hypothalamus even faster. At least one month and up to three months.
So, yes, it’s going to take a while to get back in balance after a stressful event. And we’re all going to take a while to get back in balance after the stress of living through COVID-19. Because life is not going to be normal after this and it’s going to take a little bit of time.
But if we can support ourselves during this current stressor, we’re going to come bouncing back so much faster, so much more in balance with our hormones. Right now most of us are probably feeling like we’re a little bit out of balance. Even if you felt like you were in great balance just after the holidays, once we went into pandemic mode and started locking down with so much news that made us feel so threatened, your hypothalamus went into survival mode. That’s its job.
And it interferes with your sleep.
You can support your hypothalamus to reduce your stress response, balance your hormones and get needed sleep by:
- Turning off all those lights at bedtime so that you can go into deeper sleep that will help to quell some of that cortisol.
- Making sure you’re not fueling the stress response by eating more sugar especially after dark. I know your body’s asking for sugar but by feeding it more sugar during this time, it just throws your HPA axis more out of balance. So really try to focus on eating really healthy foods. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Try to get healthy fats. Your adrenals actually run better on healthy fats and a little bit of salt when you’re under stress.
- Taking Genesis Gold® and possibly extra Sacred Seven® if you’re really out of balance.
My healthier patients respond in a just a few weeks but my unhealthier patients, who’ve been out of balance a lot longer, may take six to eight weeks before they see that response.
Twenty years ago, I was only taking Sacred Seven® before Genesis Gold® could be manufactured. It may have happened sooner if I had taken both, and I was a lot younger, I was only 38 at the time. My insomnia was such that I had somnambulance, which means that I was a sleepwalker. And when you sleepwalk, what happens is you’re in a fairly deep sleep, but you don’t ever feel rested. So taking Sacred Seven® alone it took about six weeks for that to stop.
After two to eight weeks most people feel like their insomnia is improved enough that they’re sleeping deeply at night. And after eight to twelve weeks they’re starting to remember their dreams, which is a really good sign that you’re not only making enough melatonin but they are making enough prolactin. And that helps your immune system do it’s best job to protect you at night.