Is Stress Shutting Down Your Sex Drive?

One of the most frequent complaints that I hear from women in my office is that they have no sex drive. Like zero. Nada. Nothing. It’s as if that part of their brain has turned off and doesn’t seem to want to turn back on anytime soon.

There are many reasons why women experience a low sex drive including side effects from birth control pills, low estrogen and low testosterone. But, in my experience, the number one cause of low libido is STRESS.

The reality is that our sex drive is turned down as a PROTECTIVE MECHANISM. What you need to understand is that stress shuts down our sex drive for good reason.

When the body is under stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system which is also known as our “fight or flight” response. When this response is activated, our body engages in a variety of activities that help us to survive and cope with that stress. We send lots of blood to our brain (so we can respond quickly and appropriately) and lungs and muscles (so we can run away). We may not be fighting off saber tooth tigers anymore but our body still responds in the same way. And let’s face it ladies, between family, work, and social obligations, we’re under low-grade stress all the time.

Another side-effect of this stress response is a reduction of blood flow to your reproductive organs and putting a major damper on your sex drive. WHY? The last thing your body needs when it’s under stress is another human being to take care off (aka a baby). You see, when you are under stress, your body shuts down your sex drive to limit the chances you’ll become pregnant in an effort to try to help you.

Even if you’re post-menopausal or on birth control and technically can’t get pregnant, your body will still shut down your libido because it doesn’t know any better. It’s a automatic response that is hard wired into us that actually helped keep our ancestors alive.

So, if you want that part of your brain to wake up and re-activate, you need to practice getting out of that sympathetic “fight or flight” response and start hanging out in a more relaxed parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. This is when the body is relaxed, feels safe and can start to warm that fire in your loins. (PS. men also need to be in this state to achieve and maintain an erection).

My best strategies for tapping into “rest and digest”:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night (this is the ultimate relaxed state)
  • Take 10 deep abdominal breaths before each meal
  • Learn to say “no” (and not feel guilty about it!)
  • Start a daily meditation practice such as the HeadSpace App (and come try our new service: MUSE Biofeedback Meditation)
  • Cultivate mindfulness (try to enjoy the present moment.) Start with simple activities such as mindfully brushing your teeth. Keep your mind focused by paying attention to the smell and taste of your toothpaste, the feeling of the brush against your teeth, the sounds it’s making. It’s simple but it works!

Wondering if stress is really affecting your sex drive and overall health?

Get your stress hormone levels test with our Adrenal Function Panel. It’s a simple at home saliva test that maps out your cortisol and DHEAS. You can learn more about it here. Test Cost = $220.

Sleep Hygiene Tips for Restful Sleep

What is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a term that you may have heard a lot of recently. But what is it? According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is defined as “a variety of practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”

Frequent sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. In addition, if you’re taking too long to fall asleep, you should consider evaluating your sleep routine and revising your bedtime habits. Just a few simple changes can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and night spent tossing and turning.

Why is Sleep Hygiene Important?

Our quality of sleep is not only determined by what we do before bed, but rather by the sum of how we spend our entire day. Think of your sleep routine as starting the moment you get up in the morning.

insomnia

Why is Sleep Loss So Common? 

Let’s face it: we live in a fast-paced crazy world! Sadly, the lifestyle most of us adopt to get through our crazy days often make it hard to sleep at night.  Lack of sleep may be caused by many factors but in my experience the two most common factors are stress causing an overstimulated nervous system and poor blood sugar management.

Quantity Versus Quality:

Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night is needed for optimal energy and overall health. However, sleep quality is equally as important as the number of hours spent in bed. Getting adequate, good quality sleep means that you should wake easily and feel rested and refreshed.

How Hormones Affect Sleep:

There also appears to gender differences when it comes to sleep, and a strong link between female sex hormones and sleep. While women report higher duration and quality of sleep than men, they also frequently report sleep issues. Women are more likely to have insomnia than men, the latter of which report higher incidences of sleep apnea or obstructed sleep. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause can alter sleep, as well as a combination of environmental, social, and cultural influences on these biological factors, not to mention pre-existing medical conditions.

Simple Ways to Get a Better Sleep:

It’s clear that there are many benefits to getting enough good quality sleep. Here are some tips that can help to improve your sleep hygiene and establish good sleep habits:

  1. Be consistent: As best as you can, maintain the same sleep and wake patterns every day. This will help your body establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  2. Limit daytime naps: You’ll sleep better at night if you eliminate naps. However, if you need to nap, limit them to 30 minutes or less, keeping in mind that napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, but can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance.
  3. Exercise at the right time: Regular exercise helps to improve sleep, as long as your workout isn’t too close to your bedtime. Aim to finish any vigorous activity 3 to 4 hours before you plan to go to sleep. On the other hand, gentle exercises before bed, such as yin or restorative yoga, can help the mind and body calm and prepare for sleep.
  4. Adequate exposure to natural light: This is particularly important for individuals who may not venture outside frequently. Exposure to sunlight during the day (especially when you first wake up), as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  5. Limit caffeine intake to before noon
  6. Choose a healthy bedtime snack: snacking before bed can be especially helpful for individuals with poor blood sugar balance. The best bedtime snacks contain tryptophan, and amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that aids in the sleep process. My favourite go-to’s are raw pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds) or a rice cake with nut butter.
  7. Power down: The soft blue glow from a cell phone, tablet, or digital clock on your bedside table may hurt your sleep. Turn off TVs, computers, and other blue-light sources an hour before you go to bed. Cover any displays you can’t shut off.
  8. Make you sleep environment pleasant: The Academy of Sleep advises that we think of our bedroom as a cave. Meaning, your room should be cool, dark, and quiet (i.e. free of distracting electronic devices). Your sheets should be clean and your bedding appropriate for the time of year, so your sleep is not disturbed because you are either too hot or too cold. If you share your bedroom, communicate your sleep needs with your partner, so you are both on the same page, sleep-wise. This will help limit partner-related sleep disturbances.
  9. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: For example, dim the light 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. At least an hour before bed, (if hungry) eat tryptophan-rich snack, turn off all electronics, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea, or take a bath with essential oils like lavender. Half an hour before bed, do a little light yoga and/or mediation, or read. You can also journal about anything that’s on your mind. Fifteen minutes before bed, make sure your room is quiet, cool, and dark, and your bedding is fresh and appropriate for the weather. At bedtime, slip under the covers, and practice some deep breathing techniques, or read (no electronics!) until you’re tired enough to drift off.
  10. Make your room 100% dark: make your room dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of your face when you go to bed. Blackout curtains are a great investment or simply wear an eye mask. Note: If you don’t fall asleep in about 30 minutes, try repeating some of these steps, until you feel tired enough to drift off. There’s no point in suffering and becoming more frustrated.

Resources:

 

7 Common Causes of Fatigue

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Most people experience periods of temporary fatigue commonly associated with being overworked or overtired. Such cases usually have an easily identifiable cause and remedy.

Persistent exhaustion, however, is prolonged, profound, and is not relieved by rest alone. Described as a near-constant state of weariness, fatigue develops over time and diminishes energy levels, motivation, and concentration, while also impacting emotional and psychological well-being.

Below are some of the top causes of fatigue and their symptoms.

1. Low Protein Intake:

Protein is an essential building block of the human body. Vital organs, muscles, tissues, and even some hormones are made of protein. Proteins are involved in nearly every bodily function from regulating blood sugar levels to healing wounds and fighting infection. Because they are used to develop, grow, and maintain nearly every part of the body – from skin and hair, to digestive enzymes and antibodies – they are constantly being broken down and must be replaced through diet. While each person is unique in terms of their specific protein needs (based on body weight, gender, age, and activity level), on average, the recommended daily minimum intake of protein for men is 56 grams, and 46 grams for women. Symptoms of low protein intake include: low energy/fatigue, sluggish metabolism, poor concentration, moodiness, difficulty losing weight, muscle, bone and joint pain, blood sugar changes, slow wound healing, low immunity. Vegetarians and vegans, as well as those on weight loss diets, are among the groups that may be at risk of protein deficiency.

2. Iron Deficiency:

The signs and symptoms of low iron or iron-deficiency vary depending on its severity. Mild to moderate iron deficiency can have little or no symptoms. However, if the body continues to be deficient in iron, it can lead to anemia, and symptoms then intensify. The most common symptom of iron deficiency is extreme fatigue. This is because iron is critical in the production hemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout the body. Without adequate levels of iron, the body cannot produce hemoglobin, and as a result can leave you feeling fatigued. Iron defieciency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.

3. Vitamin B12 Deficiency:

The human body requires B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out various functions. Like most vitamins, B12 cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food and/or supplements. However, many people do not consume enough B12 to meet their needs, due to dietary habits or restrictions (e.g. strict vegetarians) or because they have existing medical conditions that interfere with food absorption (e.g. celiac or Crohn’s disease). As a result, B12 deficiency is relatively common.

4. Vitamin D Deficiency: 

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, and it also appears to play a role in insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and immune function. Canadians are at risk because of our long winters and it is essentially impossible to get sufficient vitamin D from your diet. Those who avoid the sun, have darker skin complexions, are strict vegans, or who are obese, may be at even higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. According to recent research, roughly three-quarters of American adolescents and adults are vitamin D deficient.

5. Hypothyroidism:

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, stems from an underproduction of thyroid hormones. Since the body’s energy production requires certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels, causing you to feel weak and tired. Approximately 25 million people suffer with hypothyroidism and about half are undiagnosed. Older adults, particularly women, are more likely to develop hypothyroidism.

6. Insomnia/Non-restorative Sleep:

How much sleep a person needs varies but most adults require roughly seven to eight hours each night in order to function optimally. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or cause one to wake up too early and not be able to fall back asleep. Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, and/or certain biological factors. Nonrestorative sleep (NRS) is defined as the subjective experience that sleep has not been sufficiently refreshing or restorative. NRS is conventionally recognized as a symptom of insomnia or as a feature of medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome. In the case of both insomnia and NRS, you may still feel tired when you wake up, which can impact not only your energy level and mood, but also your health, work performance, and quality of life.

7. Adrenal Fatigue/Burnout:

Adrenal glands play a significant role in stress response, as well as in balancing hormones. Adrenal fatigue is a condition where the body and adrenal glands cannot keep up with the amount of stress that many people experience daily as part of modern life. Acute stress and/or chronic stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet and exercise can cause adrenals glands to become overloaded and ineffective. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:

  • Unrelenting tiredness
  • Fatigue despite adequate sleep
  • Body ache, muscle weakness, muscle tension
  • Poor focus, racing thoughts
  • Moodiness, irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizzyness or feeling unsteady with position changes
  • Difficulty exercising or poor exercise recovery

References:

 

3 Unhealthy Habits of 30-Something Women That Keep Them Feeling Tired All Day Long (Part 2)

Unhealthy Habit #2: SLEEP SHORTAGE

A shortage of sleep means getting anything less than 7 hours of deep, restful sleep EVERY NIGHT! Most busy women that I know don’t get enough sleep. They’re too busy climbing the corporate ladder, raising their kids, caring for their partner, whipping together healthy meals, and trying to squeeze in a workout here and there. The point is, sleep is far from being a priority and is often seen as a luxury.

Why a sleep shortage will sabotage your energy

You don’t need a medical degree to figure out that not getting enough sleep will make you feel tired! But there’s more….a sleep shortage can increase your hunger and cravings for sugar and carbs. Did you know that getting less than 6 hours of sleep for 1 night will increase your sugar cravings the next day? One night of sleep!?! Imagine how that might affect you after years of sleep deprivation. So, a sleep shortage will have you reaching for sweet treats which will leave you feeling even more tired. Have I convinced you yet to start sleeping more?

But I don’t have time to sleep…

You’re probably wondering how you’re going to find more time for sleep. I’ll let you in on a little secret ….you’ll never “find time” for sleep or any other activity for that matter! You have to “make time” which means making sleep a priority. Chose a reasonable bedtime (preferably no later than 11pm) and set an alarm for 1 hour before that time. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to start your bedtime routine. Just like when you were a kid. Our bodies need time to transition from go-go-go to zzzzzzzz. During that hour, turn off the TV, put away your cell phone and iPad and take some time to do something relaxing like reading a book, taking a hot bath or shower, or just lying in bed and doing some deep breathing. Creating a healthy bedtime routine will help you sleep better and wake up feeling more rested. Believe me; you’ll thank me in the morning!

Read About Unhealthy Habit #1

3 Tips to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

1. Dim the lights

Human beings evolved with very little to no exposure to nightime light. After sunset, darkness would gently signal to the body that it was time to start winding down and prepare for sleep. These days, with city living and our fondness for television, e-readers and iPads, we’re constantly exposed to bright light during our waking hours. A simple way to help your body wind down in the evening is to dim the lights after dinner and use only minimal lighting.

2. Do an Electronic Detox

Our constant use of personal electronics exposes us to an overabundance of information that our mind must process. Exposure to stressful or thought provoking information activates the sympathetic nervous system which creates an influx of stress hormones throughout the body. These stress hormones increase our heart rate and blood pressure which can interfere with good quality sleep. Avoid using all electronics (TV, computer, cell phone) for at least one hour before bed. Use this time to read a novel, take a bath, chat with a loved one, do some deep breathing or journaling.

3. Make your room DARK

Our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin while we sleep. Melatonin is important for helping us get a good night’s sleep and wake feeling refreshed and may even play a role in preventing certain types of cancer. The catch is that melatonin is only produced when we sleep in complete darkness. To help you sleep better, make sure that your bedroom is completely dark- you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. If this proves difficult, invest in an organic cotton eye mask to wear to bed.

Following these tips and still having trouble sleeping? There are natural treatments for insomnia.

Adrenal SOS

Your adrenals are two little glands that sit atop your kidneys in your low back. The adrenal glands secrete stress hormones, regulate blood pressure, and produce small amounts of sex hormones. Every time your body perceives stress, your adrenal glands get fired up and secrete stress hormones such as cortisol. Given the innumerable sources of stress that we face every day, most of us have our adrenals working in overdrive on a regular basis. After weeks, months, and even years of chronic stress, our adrenal glands can find it difficult to keep up and eventually become “fatigued”.

Symptoms of “adrenal fatigue” can include:

  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Cold intolerance or feeling chilly
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheaded/Dizziness (especially upon standing)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor coping skills
  • Mental fog
  • Salt cravings
  • High (or low) cortisol levels
  • Evening burst of energy

The good news is, there are simple steps that you can take to help nourish and regenerate your adrenal glands!

  1. Get your zzzzzz’s
    Your adrenal glands regenerate at night, especially between 11 pm and 1 am. Make sure to be in bed before 11 pm and get your 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  2. Curb your coffee intake
    Excess caffeine can add further stress to your adrenal glands. Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups a day, ideally before noon. Try a delicious cup of licorice root tea for a caffeine-free pick-me-up that helps to nourish your adrenal glands.
  3. Breathe Deeply
    Use deep breathing and other stress management techniques to help keep your stress levels under control. Keeping stress under control will reduce the number of times your adrenals have to secrete stress hormones!

Your Naturopathic Doctor can help determine if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue and offer natural therapies to help restore your health.