I've been taking a midday nap every single day this week.
As you probably know, my sleep was a mess during almost all the years when I was overtraining. I slept about 5 hours a week, sometimes 6. I still worked out despite it was clear that I was not getting enough rest, because I was terrified of what might happen if I actually skip my workout.
Looking back, it wasn't really smart of me… Here's a really bad combination for you: Not eating enough + working out a ton + not sleeping + complicated relationships + being unhappy with my job…
This is what my life looked like about 5-6 years ago. Basically, I wast just piling stress on stress on stress on stress…
My body was burnt out but I didn't allow myself to rest and recover because I was scared of weight gain.
At first, not sleeping all that much was a choice because I wanted to run very early each morning and I didn't care if I only got 5 hours. After doing this for a while, I simply couldn't fall asleep or stay asleep anymore, because my hormones were a mess as a result of all these stressors.
My Sleep Now
As I started to bring my hormones back to balance by working out less and eating more, my sleep started to get back to normal too.
Slowly but surely, I started to sleep better and longer. My body calmed down when I finally started feeding it a lot — you need tons more food than you probably think, to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea and even just overtraining. I also cut out all exercise except yoga and walking (as recommended in NPNW), and I was resting more. I gained weight. My body needed it. As a result of these changes, my sleep came back and I felt more energized in general.
By now I am at the point where I sleep 8 hours most nights, although I do have nights when I sleep around 7. This is 2-3 hours more per night than what it used to be!
When Exhaustion Comes Back
Even after recovering from overtraining and hypothalamic amenorrhea, many symptoms may make their comeback when times get more stressful again.
For example, you may notice that your sleep is getting bad again, or that you may need more sleep than you usually do. You wake up and are not rested. Your menstrual cycle may get longer again as well — all these things happen to me too during more stressful times.
This week has been harder for me than normally because I had couple of very early wake ups and late night classes to teach. I haven't really taught very early classes at the gym for over a year. I used to teach 5:30 classes and let's just say that they're NOT great for me. I can't sleep the night before and I always end up getting 6 hours of sleep at most, so I'm a mess the next day. So I stopped doing that on a regular basis.
But occasionally, I cover for other trainers and this week happened to be one of them. I was teaching early mornings three times this week, and several days ran into late night with evening classes.
I've been tired and I've needed a nap every single day. I've been waking up tired and not gotten much else done.
People who haven't been burnt out like that, may be able to just “sleep it out” in the weekend and then start the next week like nothing ever happened. But for someone who has once worn her body out, it's not that easy. Our bodies remember and probably get in a little bit of panic mode, asking: What's going on?? and sending us signals that we need to slow the heck down.
What To Do When You're Having a Rough Week
Let's not get mad about our bodies for slowing us down and sending us these signals, because they do it simply to protect us. They tell us to sleep in, take a nap or skip the gym because they don't want us to get burnt out again.
So what can you do to help your body in this situation?
Skip your workout or cut it in half. This advice is for those who have gotten back to training after recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea or overtraining. Just skip a day or two, there's no point in pushing hard of your body is already stressed out. You're only making things worse.
If you're working on getting your period back, your workouts should be pretty minimal already. But even if your only form of exercise is a 3-4 mile walk a day or three yoga classes per week, for example — if you're tired, cut your walks in half or so just one yoga class per week.
Stop negative self talk. This week, I caught myself several times thinking: I'm so lazy, I can't get anything done if I sleep all day! Who's going to put together the course I'm supposed to be working on? Why am I so tired?
But I have noticed it, stopped myself and said: This is what your body needs. You can't do good work if you're tired. How are you going to feel tomorrow if you stay up until midnight to work on the course you want to write?
I know that the quality of my work can't be great if I'm doing it sleep deprived. Realizing that sleeping is really the best thing for my body and mind to do right now is important.
Sleep as much as you can. There's a great quote by Frank K. Knight: Never waste any time you could spend sleeping.
Sleep is really the best medicine that can heal so many things. It's a huge one in recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, but obviously, recovering from exhaustion. Sleep as much as you can — sleep in if you have a chance in the morning, or take a nap midday, or go to bed extra early. Or if needed, do all three — just sleep as much as you can and leave anything that can wait, for later.
Unfortunately, those of us who have been burnt out, may see some of the symptoms back when times get stressful. The shorter the time you have been recovered, the more likely it is.
When you think about it, you were probably overtrained for a long time, it would be odd to think that you can fully recover in just a few months, even in a year.
Don't get stressed out, that will only make things worse. Instead, think how you can best support and protect your body from getting even more fatigued. Skip the gym, sleep as much as you need and be kind to yourself.
Are you recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again? Do it safely, without losing your period again. Check out my online program, Simple Strength for Women.