Sunday, 13 June 2010

Running on empty

He's worth £250 million. He employs 600 people. P Diddy may be ghetto fabulous and an icon of success, but he can't sleep. "If I got more sleep, I'd be a better person, a healthier person, I'd be able to see a bit clearer. It's a problem - and I'm looking for help," he said in a recent interview in the London Times.

"I ain't stressed, it's the reverse. It's because I'm so excited."

Excitement. Stress. Grief. Anxiety. Chronic insomnia. They all have one thing in common: they put the body into 'fight or flight' mode - a state of preparation for coping with an emergency. The body gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, hormones designed to get you through an acute crisis not a chronically unbalanced lifestyle. These hormones are meant to heighten physical and mental performance and so they prevent sleep, increase the heart rate, improve muscle power and raise blood pressure - everything you need to fight off an attack from a sabre-toothed tiger, but less than useful every day in the office.

When these hormones are persistently activated they make you feel jittery, tense, nauseous, and in turn - as in P Diddy's case - unable to sleep.

In the longterm, this scenario can lead to adrenal exhaustion - when the adrenal glands, stimulated beyond capability, pack up - and the inevitable physical and mental burnout. This in turn can lead to problems like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), ME (mylagic encephalitis) and other autoimmune disorders like Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include:
- insomnia
- difficulties with concentration and memory
- low-stress intolerance, irritability
- lethargy and fatigue
- light-headedness, especially on standing up
- allergies
- PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome)
- more frequent coughs and colds

But it's not easy to change tack because we can become almost addicted to the sort of high that running on empty can provide. Slowing down feels odd at first. Flat. Not quite right. We can become stress junkies.

P Diddy is wise to be alarmed by his chronic insomnia, but this is only a symptom of a bigger problem. His sleep problem is directly connected to his lifestyle demands, and until he addresses those, sleep won't come easy.

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