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How Much Sleep do you Really Need?

by Dr. Amanda Chay |

Sleep is a popular health topic lately. Experts and media alike are citing the many negative effects of not getting enough of it. However, there’s still confusion about how much sleep you actually need, not only to stave off chronic illness, but also to kick some butt or do some major healing.

When you have adrenal fatigue, sleep is disrupted. Many people with adrenal issues report feeling exhausted in the morning and “tired but wired” at night; these interrupted sleep patterns are due to fluctuations in our primary stress hormone cortisol.

Like our sleep hormone melatonin, cortisol follows a rhythm throughout the day. Typically, cortisol is supposed to rise in the morning to energize you for the day, and then fall as the day progresses, troughing at night time to help you relax into sleep.[1]

When you’re chronically stressed, your natural healthy cortisol rhythm reverses or even flattens[2], which explains why you can’t fall asleep or wake up when you’re supposed to. These interrupted sleep patterns have unfortunate effects throughout the body, increasing the risk for obesity, diabetes[3], memory problems[4], and even your ability to have empathy for others[5].

Bad sleep also worsens adrenal fatigue as sleep deprivation throws off the entire stress system.[6] Sleep deprivation is linked to inflammation levels, stress hormone levels, and vice versa. In a study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, reducing inflammation with medication improved sleep quality and proper cortisol regulation.[7] In some sort of vicious cycle, even partial sleep loss can also cause elevated inflammatory chemicals and abnormal levels of cortisol which results in decreased alertness and performance.[8] On the plus side, napping does seem to improve stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals on top of decreasing sleepiness. [9]

So how much sleep do you actually need?

Unfortunately, the answer varies from person to person, even according to scientific studies.[10] [11] However, plenty of evidence suggests that sleep quality is as important as quantity.[12] Even mild sleep restriction, such as 90 minutes over just 3 weeks, is associated with hormonal issues.[13] However, you need to listen to your body and give your body the sleep it craves.

If you need to calm your system into good sleep, you may need some extra help. For more reading on whether you have adrenal fatigue and what to do about it, visit our page here.


[1] Adam EK, Quinn ME, Tavernier R, McQuillan MT, Dahlke KA, Gilbert KE. Diurnal cortisol slopes and mental and physical health outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017;83:25-41.

[2] Abell JG, Shipley MJ, Ferrie JE, Kivimäki M, Kumari M. Recurrent short sleep, chronic insomnia symptoms and salivary cortisol: A 10-year follow-up in the Whitehall II study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016;68:91-9.

[3] Nedeltcheva AV, Scheer FA. Metabolic effects of sleep disruption, links to obesity and diabetes. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2014;21(4):293-8.

[4] Abel T, Havekes R, Saletin JM, Walker MP. Sleep, plasticity and memory from molecules to whole-brain networks. Curr Biol. 2013;23(17):R774-88.

[5] Guadagni V, Burles F, Ferrara M, Iaria G. The effects of sleep deprivation on emotional empathy. J Sleep Res. 2014 Dec;23(6):657-663. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12192. Epub 2014 Aug 13. PubMed PMID: 25117004

[6] van Dalfsen JH, Markus CR. The influence of sleep on human hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity: A systematic review. Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Jun;39:187-194. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.002. Epub 2017 Oct 18. Review. PubMed PMID: 29126903.

[7] Straub RH, Detert J, Dziurla R, Fietze I, Loeschmann PA, Burmester GR, Buttgereit F. Inflammation Is an Important Covariate for the Crosstalk of Sleep and the HPA Axis in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Neuroimmunomodulation. 2017;24(1):11-20. doi: 10.1159/000475714. Epub 2017 May 24. PubMed PMID: 28535535.

[8] [The effects of sleep deprivation on sleepiness, performance, stress and immune system]. Glas Srp Akad Nauka Med. 2009;(50):111-23. Review. Serbian. PubMed PMID: 20666119.

[9] Vgontzas AN, Pejovic S, Zoumakis E, Lin HM, Bixler EO, Basta M, Fang J, Sarrigiannidis A, Chrousos GP. Daytime napping after a night of sleep loss decreases sleepiness, improves performance, and causes beneficial changes in cortisol and interleukin-6 secretion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jan;292(1):E253-61. Epub 2006 Aug 29. PubMed PMID: 16940468.

[10] Hwangbo Y, Kim WJ, Chu MK, Yun CH, Yang KI. Habitual Sleep Duration, Unmet Sleep Need, and Excessive Daytime Sleepiness in Korean Adults. J Clin Neurol. 2016;12(2):194-200.

[11] Grandner MA, Patel NP, Gehrman PR, Perlis ML, Pack AI. Problems associated with short sleep: bridging the gap between laboratory and epidemiological studies. Sleep Med Rev. 2009;14(4):239-47.

[12] Gooley JJ. How Much Day-To-Day Variability in Sleep Timing Is Unhealthy?. Sleep. 2016;39(2):269-70. Published 2016 Feb 1. doi:10.5665/sleep.5424

[13] Robertson MD, Russell-Jones D, Umpleby AM, Dijk DJ. Effects of three weeks of mild sleep restriction implemented in the home environment on multiple metabolic and endocrine markers in healthy young men. Metabolism. 2013 Feb;62(2):204-11. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2012.07.016. Epub 2012 Sep 15. PubMed PMID: 22985906.