If you continuously feel “wired and tired,” then you may be suffering from high cortisol levels. It occurs when you constantly feel tired, but are too wired or wound up to get any rest.
Research shows that people who describe themselves as “wired and tired” may be experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue, insomnia, psychological stress, burnout, and more.
Here’s what happens when you always feel “wired and tired,” and how to balance your cortisol levels to alleviate the feeling.
What Does “Wired and Tired” Mean?
“Wired and tired” refers to being exhausted or overly tired, but too anxious to sleep. You might feel this way if, while laying in bed at night, your body is tired, but your mind is wide awake.
Many people describe this feeling as being burned out. If you’re feeling this way, then you’ve probably been under prolonged stress for a while now, whether you know it or not.
Research shows that prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, depression, cardiovascular problems (such as elevated blood pressure), cognitive problems, insomnia, GI problems, and more.
Overexposure to stress leads to disharmony in the body. Specifically, it affects our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
The theory behind being “wired and tired” is that people have HPA axis dysfunction, which is caused by increased cortisol levels and neurotransmitter imbalances.
How Does HPA Dysfunction Occur?
Research shows that there are four general types of chronic HPA axis stressors:
1. Sleep disorders
Cortisol is naturally suppressed during slow-wave sleep by reduced levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and an increase in growth hormone (GH) secretion.
Long-term exposure to stressors causes abnormal SNS and HPA axis activation, which disrupts the normal pattern of the release of these hormones. This causes cortisol levels to become elevated in the evening and during the initial sleep phases, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Research shows that HPA axis dysfunction, which leads to disruptions in cortisol and other adrenal hormones, may also be a common cause of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
2. Glycemic and metabolic dysregulation
Cortisol is responsible for the regulation of insulin production. An increase in cortisol levels tells the brain and body that it needs to maintain enough glucose reserves to handle a fight or flight response, which is useful under short-term conditions but can cause serious side effects when maintained over long periods.
People who regularly consume high glycemic foods, such as refined sugars and grains, may experience a blood sugar crash, which then causes an increase in cortisol. This causes a vicious cycle because cortisol can promote additional insulin resistance.
People with high levels of belly fat or insulin resistance may have HPA axis dysfunction and can benefit from learning how to control cortisol levels in addition to making healthier food choices.
3. Chronic inflammation
Normally, cortisol acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. However, when increased cortisol levels are present in the body, it has the opposite effect. Research shows that chronic inflammation signals cortisol release through the HPA axis and inflammatory signaling.
This process can become worse if you have undiagnosed inflammation in the gut, such as irritable bowel disease or food allergies. It can also be present in obesity and chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and cardiovascular diseases.
4. Mental and emotional stress
Feelings such as grief, fear, anxiety, excitement, and guilt can trigger a strong HPA axis response, including a rise in cortisol levels. Research shows that each individual has their own unique way of responding to mental and emotional stressors.
The magnitude of the HPA stress response due to mental and emotional stress depends on several factors, including the threat to the person, the sense of loss of control, the unpredictability nature, and the novelty to the person.
The key to regulating cortisol levels is to correct any HPA axis stressors, such as the ones listed above. Here’s how you can do that.
1. Reduce inflammation.
Reducing chronic stressors that stimulate the inflammatory response can help restore balance to your cortisol levels. To effectively reduce inflammation, it’s best to tackle this from a variety of approaches.
You can start by eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet, such as gluten, soy, dairy, refined grains, and sugar. Replace processed foods with whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruit, and lean protein, including fish and poultry.
These foods provide healing nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which zap inflammation and restore balance to your hormone levels.
Pay special attention to your intake of high glycemic foods during this time, which can negatively impact your glucose and insulin levels, resulting in higher cortisol production.
Exercising helps reduce cortisol levels in two ways. First, it’s a great stress-relieving tactic for reducing emotional and psychological stress. Next, cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which can help alleviate SNS and HPA axis dysfunction.
Fitting daily exercise into your routine might seem impossible due to the current stressors of the pandemic. Many of us are trying to work, care for multiple children, and homeschool all at once.
Try to get it done first thing in the morning before the day gets away from you. This might require you to wake up early, but you’ll feel much better when it’s done. Avoid working out in the evening as this may contribute to your inability to sleep at night.
3. Improve your bedtime routine.
Your nighttime routine might need a makeover if you want better sleep. Start with eating a light meal at dinner. Go with a lean protein and some low-carb veggies, which should be easy to digest while you sleep.
After dinner, try limiting television and electronic devices that can contribute to stress and delay the production of melatonin. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark when you sleep and encourage children into their own beds so you can sleep uninterrupted.
Some people find that meditating before bed can help reduce the effects of being tired and wired. You can also practice some breathing exercises to relax and get ready for bed.