Clean Up Your Sleep Act
We all know how important sleep is, and yet its one of the first things to be neglected when life gets busy or to become impacted when were feeling stressed.
Proper sleep has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, but what is proper sleep?
First things first, you need to get the proper amount of sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, the optimal amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 60 is between seven and nine hours.
Another important part of sleep is hygiene. Sleep is an integral aspect of keeping cortisol levels down. Its not just about sleeping enough, but about fixing your sleep habits and maintaining them, said nutritionist Lovneet Batra.
Experts agree that there are some important habits to be cultivated to get a good night’s sleep:
How To Naturally Lower Your Cortisol Levels
Do you feel lethargic or experience mood swings or depression? Have you recently noticed weight gain and high blood pressure?You might have high cortisol levels. Read on to learn out about the effects of elevated cortisol on your health and what you can do about it.
What Are The Health Impacts Of Excess Cortisol And Sleep Loss
As long as there is insufficient sleep, your body remains stranded in the fight-or-flight state, in which your SNS is floored into a perpetual state of overdrive. The strain placed on your body by this persistent force of sympathetic activation leaks out in all manner of health issues, triggering a domino effect of health damage.
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Easy Ways To Lower Cortisol Levels So You Don’t Feel As Stressed
Right now, likely more than ever, people across the world are stressed. With so much uncertainty surrounding the effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the global population, it’s hard not to feel anxious and blue.
This means that your cortisol levels are probably higher than usual, which also means it’s of utmost importance that you figure out how to lower cortisol. To help, we reached out to several experts and conducted research to gather 15 science-backed tips on how to lower cortisol levels naturally, so your immune system can remain strong during these unprecedented times.
Get The Right Amount Of Sleep
Prioritizing your sleep may be an effective way to reduce cortisol levels. Chronic sleep issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or shift work have been associated with higher cortisol .
One review of 28 studies in shift workers found that cortisol levels were higher in workers who slept during the day rather than at night .
Those on rotating shifts have been linked with poorer health outcomes, such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and worsened mental health (
Practicing good sleep hygiene can help to keep cortisol in a normal rhythm. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bed, and staying off your cell phone right before bed are effective strategies.
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Other Effects Of Cortisol
Some physical effects of cortisol unrelated to fight or flight include:
Controlling salt and water balance.
Acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Helping you wake up in the morning.
Regulating immune system function.
Cortisol release is controlled by a feedback system between your brains hypothalamus gland, the , and the adrenal gland, which together constitute the HPA axis . The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for ensuring that your blood contains the correct level of cortisol. If its too low or too high, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to make more or less.
Once a perceived threat has passed, your cortisol levels should return to normal, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to regulate and your digestion and other body systems to restart. However, in our stress-laden, fast-paced culture, cortisol can remain chronically high. This can cause a variety of health problems, as we discuss below.
Cortisol And Sleep Disorders
One big question is this: does too-high cortisol cause sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, or is high cortisol a result of those sleep disorders? The answer is complex, and one that scientists are still reaching for we dont yet fully understand the directionality of the relationship between sleep disorders, cortisol, and the HPA axis. The short answer is, its likely some of both. Thats the two-way relationship in action.
Research shows that heightened HPA-axis activity is linked to more restless, fragmented sleep, less slow wave sleep, and lower overall sleep amounts. This strongly suggests a role for cortisol as a sleep disruptor. Research including this 2014 study, show that sleep deprivation is linked to higher cortisol levels and to a more extreme cortisol response in the presence of stressthats the HPA axis going into action urging the body into a state of fight-or-flight. This strongly suggests a role for sleep problems as aggravators of cortisol. And other research shows links between compromised sleep quality and heightened HPA axis activity.
What about specific sleep disorders, such as insomnia? High cortisol levels frequently appear with insomnia. But its not clear whether elevated cortisol is a cause or consequence of insomnia. And its entirely possible that depending on an individuals circumstances, cortisol could be both a cause and a consequence.
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Cortisol And Blood Glucose
Cortisol acts as a catabolic hormone to increase glucose availability to the brain. This occurs via several pathways. High cortisol levels induce gluconeogenesis in the liver which will then be delivered into the bloodstream. The body must use amino acids to complete this process and the bodys most readily available supply of protein is skeletal muscle.Therefore, muscle tissue is broken down, glycogen stores are emptied, and the muscles decrease glucose uptake. Additionally, cortisol instructs the pancreas to decrease insulin production to keep the circulating levels of glucose higher .
Proven Ways To Lower Cortisol Naturally
- The best ways to lower cortisol include practicing relaxation techniques, improving your diet, getting enough sleep, and caring for a pet.
- You can also relieve stress by dedicating time to activities that promote happiness, such as building a social support network, spending time outside, exercising, or trying to make yourself laugh.
- This article was medically reviewed by Sarah C. McEwen, PhD, Director of Research and Programming for Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and Associate Professor of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Cortisol is a naturally occurring hormone, often called the stress hormone, that plays a key role in your body’s stress response. It is also known as the “fight or flight” hormone, helping you manage stressful or dangerous situations.
When your brain perceives a threat, like a car suddenly stopping in front of you on the freeway or an unexpected noise in your house, it sends a signal to your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline to tell you to escape or prepare for conflict. This release of hormones can cause your heart rate to increase, your breathing to quicken, and your muscles to tense.
Finding healthy ways to deal with stress can help lower cortisol levels and regulate your body’s stress response. Here’s five ways to do it.
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Cortisol Levels & Weight Gain
If you want to try lowering cortisol naturally, eating a variety of healthy foods may help you lose weight. Because a high cortisol level has been shown to negatively affect metabolism rates and generate abdominal fat, by eating healthier and lowering your cortisol level, you can lose weight more quickly.
Do Things That Make You Happy
Whether its connecting with friends and family or trying out a new hobby, spending time doing things that make you genuinely happy may help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels. Improving your disposition to become more positive can be a big part of improving your overall health. Studies show that positive affect can not only decrease cortisol, but also improve heart rate, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. One study even found that laughter can decrease stress.
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How The Ans And The Hpa Axis Join Forces In Stressful Situations
In the presence of a stressor, the fight-or-flight response is activated, as the PNS slides into submission while the SNS and HPA axis take over. Within the ANS, the hormone adrenaline and the neurotransmitter noradrenaline are released. This is why you feel like you are in a heightened mode of alertness. It also explains some of the physiological reactions you experience, such as a faster heart rate.
At the same time, the HPA axis goes into work mode to bring about the following changes:
- The paraventricular nucleus secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone .
- CRH binds to the CRH receptors in the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone into the bloodstream.
- ACTH then signals the adrenal cortex to produce and discharge cortisol.
As mentioned earlier, the HPA axis interacts with the ANS during times of stress. This interaction is primarily seen in how CRH activates the release of NE during the fight-or-flight response. NE then stimulates the HPA axis to produce more CRF, resulting in a positive feedback loop that amplifies cortisol levels within your body.
Cultivate Good Sleep Hygiene 24/7
Prioritize good sleep hygiene all the time as it keeps your sleep debt low and your body clock in circadian alignment to combat excess cortisol the natural way. From perfecting the ideal sleep environment to cutting off your caffeine consumption, healthy, sleep-promoting behaviors help you get the hours of sleep you need for better energy during the day.
In particular, well-timed light exposure is of vital importance. Light is one of the most potent circadian cues that reset your internal clock. Expose yourself to bright natural light the moment you awake. Steer clear of artificial light sources in the few hours before bed. We recommend wearing blue-light blocking glasses before bedtime to protect your eyeballs from the wavelengths that dampen melatonin production. Doing so helps keep your circadian rhythm running smoothly and meet your sleep need more easily.
Strategic light exposure is only one of the many pieces to the puzzle of optimal sleep hygiene. Only when you have all the tabs in place will you be able to form the full picture of healthy sleep practices and their benefits. To learn the gamut of good sleep hygiene, check out our in-depth Sleep Guide.
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How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels
If your cortisol levels are high, how you lower them will depend on the underlying cause. If its because of issues with your pituitary gland, adrenal glands, or medication youre taking, youll need to work with your GP or health professional to lower them. If its because of chronic stress, there are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to lower your stress levels:
- enjoy yourself do something you love every day, like dancing or listening to music, to improve your mood
- practice mindfulness for example, daily meditation or yoga
- connect with your friends, family, and even your pet a strong social support system is important for your mental health
- make sleep a priority do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
- break a sweat aim for at least 75 vigorous minutes of activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week
- eat a healthy diet aim for a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish
- breathing exercises for example, deep nose breathing or counting breaths
- try a supplement omega-3, vitamin B-complex, magnesium, L-theanine, lemon balm, valerian root, and ashwagandha are linked to lower cortisol levels
The Natural Timeline Of Cortisol Production
Before we get into the fine print of how to lower cortisol levels, we first have to know where this stress hormone is manufactured in your body. In which case, look toward the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis . The HPA axis is a complex biological system encompassing the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands .
Cortisol follows its own circadian rhythm, scientifically known as the cortisol rhythm. When your cortisol rhythm is properly functioning, your bodyâs cortisol production timeline looks like this:
- In the early morning hours, your body temperature increases ever so slightly . This minute change is enough to ramp up your bodyâs levels of cortisol, activating the cortisol awakening response . For that same reason, cortisol is also colloquially known as the alertness-promoting hormone.
- After jolting you into wakefulness in the early morning, your bodyâs release of cortisol surges for 30-45 minutes before gradually quieting down as the day wears on.
- Cortisol concentration then reaches its low point around midnight. Two to three hours after youâve fallen asleep, your body resumes cortisol production until its peak in the early morning, when the cycle repeats itself.
In essence, a healthy cortisol rhythm surges in the early morning before ebbing once itâs past the late morning hours.
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Cortisol And Stress: The Basics
Cortisol is one of several hormones the body produces naturally. Cortisol levels do go up when youre stressed. But it doesnt deserve its bad rap.
Cortisol supports overall health, Dr. Lin says. It helps us wake up, gives us energy during the day and lowers at night to help us sleep and rest.
The problem arises when chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high for the long haul. High cortisol levels over weeks or months can lead to inflammation and a host of mental and physical health problems, from anxiety to weight gain to heart disease.
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How To Reduce Cortisol Naturally
Dr. Lin stresses that a big-picture approach is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels and feeling less stressed. These go-to strategies are good for the body and the mind.
Exercise benefits health from head to toe. So its no surprise that it helps with stress relief, too, possibly by reducing cortisol levels. Studies show, for instance, that exercise can bring down cortisol levels in the elderly and in people with major depressive disorder.
Almost nothing beats a good nights sleep. When youre not sleeping well, you tend to be more anxious, irritable and stressed, Dr. Lin says. Like exercise, sleep is important for health in all sorts of ways including managing stress and keeping cortisol in check.
Sleep deprivation may increase cortisol levels. The increased cortisol can impair memory, contribute to weight gain and even accelerate the aging process. In other words: Dont skimp on shut-eye.
Spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to lower cortisol and calm your brain. The practice of forest bathing essentially, hanging out in the woods and breathing the forest air can reduce cortisol levels and lower stress.
When it comes to de-stressing, cortisol is just one piece of the puzzle, Dr. Lin adds. No one food or pill can deliver you to blissful calm. But healthy choices can set your body up for low-stress success.
How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels Naturally
Chronic stress can lead to higher cortisol, which can in turn cause sleeplessness. Like we mentioned, there are a number of natural ways to lower cortisol levels to see real results. Some of these methods include cutting out caffeine, deep breathing, and yoga. By lowering your cortisol levels, you will be able to reduce the amount of stress that you experience. This in turn will help you to achieve a better work-life balance and improve your overall health.
Here are a few tips to help regulate cortisol production:
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Learn To Recognize Stressful Thinking
Paying attention to stressful thoughts may help you reduce them.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a strategy that involves becoming more self-aware of stress-provoking thoughts, accepting them without judgment or resistance, and allowing yourself the ability to process them .
Training yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension helps you recognize stress when it begins .
Recognizing stressful thoughts allows you to formulate a conscious and deliberate reaction to them. For example, a study involving 43 women in a mindfulness-based program showed the ability to describe and articulate stress was linked to a lower cortisol response (
Tending to your own happiness can help keep cortisol down. If youre feeling stressed, try listening to music or making yourself laugh.
How To Test Your Cortisol Levels
A blood, saliva, or urine test can be done to measure your cortisol levels. Depending on the cause, your GP might sometimes arrange a cortisol test, most commonly using a blood test.
Cortisol blood test
A cortisol blood test is usually done in the morning when your cortisol levels tend to be at their highest. Cortisol levels tend to fall as the day goes on, reaching their lowest point at night before bed.
Cortisol urine test
A cortisol urine test involves collecting all of your urine over the course of a day. This can help to show how your cortisol levels change throughout the day.
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