Adrenal fatigue symptoms: is it a real thing?

Ever feel wired and tired? The feeling of laying down to go to sleep and you’re just so darn exhausted yet you can’t, for the life of you, fall asleep. You lay wide awake, your brain is going a million miles an hour, and you’re trying to force it to just STOP THINKING so you can for the love, go to sleep. 

This was my first symptom of adrenal fatigue in 2013, after I had my first child. Many well meaning people would remind me to “sleep when the baby sleeps!” and this advice was solid, except I couldn’t. Anxious and wide awake, I’d lay there. I’d cope by drinking lots of coffee, my cravings for sugar and carbs were insane (I knew very little about nutrition back then) and I ate anything in sight because, well, I was breastfeeding. My adrenals were fried, I had full blown adrenal fatigue, and had no idea. 

What is adrenal fatigue?

Your adrenals signal the “fight or flight” response, which is your body’s response to stress. 

Your adrenal glands are small, triangular shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. They’re a part of your endocrine system and produce hormones that regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions. They’re pretty darn important to your overall health and unfortunately we don’t realize that our lifestyle choices and habits can have a detrimental impact on our adrenals.  

Adrenal fatigue is technically not recognized as a diagnosable condition in the medical community. It’s characterized by certain symptoms and is a result of chronic stress that depletes the adrenal glands. Your adrenals signal the “fight or flight” response, which is your body’s response to stress. Fight or flight causes the adrenals to release cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenals for use in the regulation of blood pressure. In response to stress, the adrenals release greater amounts of cortisol. Adrenal fatigue is thought to occur when the adrenals have become overtaxed by excess cortisol release and can no longer produce levels of cortisol necessary for optimal body function.” (1)

What are the signs?

Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include: 

  • Fatigue, especially upon waking. Slow to start in the morning. 
  • Poor stress response and mood regulation
  • Brain fog or other cognitive issues like forgetfulness 
  • Increased energy in the evenings 
  • Cravings for salty and/or sweet foods
  • Overuse of caffeine 
  • Weakened immune system 
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Weight gain 
  • Low sex drive 
  • Hair loss

What does it feel like?

Adrenal fatigue impacts everyone differently. Some individuals may experience unexplained weight gain and their hair might fall out. Others may have zero sex drive, get sick more often than normal and need caffeine to get through the day. When I’ve navigated adrenal fatigue, I felt very withdrawn from my work and purpose, feelings of depression, brain fog, my sleep was impacted and it always impacted my sex drive. 

As a person that is typically very driven, productive and motivated, it was hard for me to accept that my body needed rest. For me, I would try to push through Monday through Thursday as much as I could and try to get as much done as possible. By Friday I would crash, it wasn’t uncommon for my husband to come home from work (sometimes I’d beg him to come home early) and he would find me in bed, unable to participate in taking care of our kids. 

Can you test for adrenal fatigue?

There is no official test for adrenal fatigue, however you can have bloodwork and urine samples taken to check for hormonal imbalances. Consult with your doctor to determine what is best for you. You may want to consider having the following levels checked when addressing adrenal fatigue symptoms: 

  • Cortisol
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Free T3 (FT3)
  • Free T4 (FT4)
  • ACTH Hormone Test
  • DHEA-sulfate serum test

What happens if I go untreated?

The vicious cycle of burning the candle at both ends, chronic stress, prolonged periods of “fight or flight” can lead to very serious chronic illness. Chronic stress is the root cause of most chronic illness and can be the “trigger” to many autoimmune/metabolic diseases such as Type II diabetes, Hashimoto’s, Cushing’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac Disease, Grave’s Disease, etc. 

Prolonged periods of stress can negatively impact your metabolism, sex hormones, thyroid function, digestion, it can lead to increased inflammation in the body and more. It’s vital that we protect and support our adrenals, especially in a culture that promotes a fast-paced culture and glorifies hustling and productivity.

How do you fix adrenal fatigue?

Nourishing the adrenals and helping your body recover from long periods of “fight or flight” or chronic stress is possible. The number one focus needs to be on stress reduction. Stressors are numerous, we navigate them all day long. We experience stress with our jobs, families, world events (hello, pandemic), and of course our lifestyle choices. 

Choosing to skip meals, the foods we eat (or don’t eat), alcohol consumption, caffeine, how we exercise, environmental factors (pollution, toxins in our products, the water we drink, exposure to EMF’s, blue light) all impact our stress levels on a mental/emotional level and cellular level. With focused nutrition, mindful movement/exercise habits, prioritizing sleep, and possible supplementation, you can heal and start to feel like yourself again.


I am a holistic nutritionist, not a medical doctor.  I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, or cure any human disease or physical problem. I do not provide diagnosis, care treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles.  I do not prescribe prescription drugs nor do I tell you to discontinue them.  I provide physical and dietary suggestions to improve health and wellness and to nourish and support normal function and structure of the body.  If you suspect any disease please consult your physician.