The Health Problems Created By A Lack Of Sleep
First and foremost, you can think of cortisol-induced sleep loss in terms of:
- Acute sleep debt, which is the amount of sleep you’ve missed out on in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need
- Chronic sleep deprivation, which refers to restricted sleep over a prolonged period of several months or years
In the short term, acute sleep debt downgrades every aspect of your life that matters, from your cognitive functioning to your immune system to your social relationships.
Over time, acute sleep debt progresses to chronic sleep deprivation, in which a new host of health problems arrive, courtesy of your bodyâs persistently high cortisol levels. The long-term effects of sleep insufficiency are well-documented in scientific literature, particularly in the form of metabolic health issues such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
As if the direct impacts of sleep loss itself aren’t distressing enough, you also have to contend with the additional health issues that too much cortisol instigates.
Cut Out Caffeine Or Consume Less
A 2005 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that caffeine increases cortisol secretion even in people at rest. Because caffeine can stimulate cortisol production and increase blood pressure, Krista King, MS, RDN, of Composed Nutrition, offers a solution to lower cortisol: “Try doing a caffeine reset. Gradually you have each day by swapping it out for a caffeine-free or lower caffeine alternative.”
Add A Calming Supplement
A supplement designed to reduce symptoms of stress and help manage the ups and downs of cortisol and keep it stable over time could help you fall asleep. There are a few key ingredients to look for. The adaptogen ashwagandha can support healthy cortisol levels by helping your body manage stress. HUMs Calm Sweet Calmstress gummies contain ashwagandha and l-theanine, an amino acid that can relax the body for sleep and improve sleep quality.
The clinically studied amounts of Sensoril, a patented extract of ashwagandha, and L-theanine found in Calm Sweet Calm are a potent combination to help you relax and de-stress, explains Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD, MS, RDN, HUMs VP of scientific affairs and education. You can take them at any time of day to support cortisol fluctuations some people find the effects to be beneficial at night while others prefer it in the morning to prep for their day.
Read Also: How Much Melatonin Is In Olly Sleep
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.
Sleep Hygiene Tips For Lower Cortisol Levels
- Go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Set an alarm to get you up at the same time each morning.
- Wash your bedding and night clothes regularly.
- Keep distractions, like noise, tv, and phones, to a minimum before bed.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Dont exercise in the evening.
- Avoid bright lights and screens before bed.
FACTShift work from early adulthood is associated with increased, prolonged cortisol levels and a higher body mass index .
Recommended Reading: How To Lower Cortisol Fast
Pinpoint Your Comfort Food Triggers
Try writing down what you eat in an effort to get a better idea of when you stress eat. “Keeping a food journal for a week can help you pinpoint the times where you indulge in comfort foods or when you make sensible, healthier choices,” says Balk. “If dinner before a big test or meeting tends to be fried ‘comfort food,’ it’s worthwhile to stop the cycle and replace that emotion with a healthier choice or receive consolation another way.”
When Not To Lower Your Bodys Cortisol Reserves
High cortisol levels arenât necessarily ruinous for you. As you can see from the previous section, a pre-dawn cortisol hike coincides with the usual hours for waking up. Without the alertness-boosting effects of this hormone, it becomes that much more difficult to push through your morning sleep inertia and feel like youâve had a full night of invigorating sleep.
Cortisol is also vital to your overall health throughout the day as it helps:
- Mediate your stress response
- Regulate your metabolism rate for energy production
- Fight inflammation to boost your bodyâs rest-and-repair mechanism
- Develop and maintain a functioning immune system
On a medical note, too-low cortisol levels lead to a health issue known as Addisonâs disease. Itâs a manifestation of adrenal gland disorder commonly accompanied by symptoms like low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels.
The Cortisol Rhythm And Sleep
Like nearly all hormones in the human body, cortisol has a daily, 24-hour rhythm. For most bio types, cortisol levels are at their highest in the morning, usually around 9 a.m. Cortisol begins to rise gradually in the second half of a nights sleep. The hormone begins a more rapid rise around the time youre waking up before peaking at about 9. From that point on, cortisol makes a gradual decline throughout the day, reaching its lowest levels around midnight. The activity of the HPA axis, which produces cortisol, reduces to its lowest levels in the evenings, right around your bedtime. In this way, cortisol plays a critical role in sleep-wake cycles: stimulating wakefulness in the morning, continuing to support alertness throughout the day while gradually dropping to allow the bodys own internal sleep drive and other hormonesincluding adenosine and melatoninto rise, and help bring about sleep.
This evening-low, morning-high daily cortisol rhythm is true for most chronotypes: Lions, Bears and Wolves. In Dolphins, however, the cortisol rhythm is inverted. Dolphins have cortisol on the rise at night and reaching its lowest levels in the morning. This inverted cortisol rhythm contributes to the difficulty falling asleep, restless and light sleep, groggy mornings and daytime fatigue that is so common among Dolphin chronotypes.
Poor sleep itself also can increase cortisol production and dysfunction of activity along the HPA axis. Research shows that cortisol can be elevated by:
Main Causes Of Waking Up At 3 Am Every Night
There are many possible causes of SMI as it relates to adrenal fatigue. But first, it is important to determine if there is a structural cause of the problem. Lung and airway obstructions can potentially cause waking up at 3 AM every night, disrupted sleep, and a doctor should first rule out any problems such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Once other causes have been ruled out, SMI usually arises either from one of a few dysregulation: neurotransmitter, hormonal, autonomic, or metabolic. The first cause is due to a disruption in the biological, circadian rhythms, caused by imbalanced levels of neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, etc. Cortisol dysregulation, and elevation, at night is a possible hormonal cause of SMI. Cortisol is typically highest in the morning and decreases as the day goes on, with lowest levels at night. Cortisol levels then rise steadily toward the end of the sleep cycle, causing a person to wake up. During sleep, cortisol levels need to remain low, or the person is likely to wake up. With AFS, cortisol levels can start to increase at night, often times waking you up.
Recommended Reading: Hashimoto’s And Cortisol Levels
Limit Alcohol And Caffeine
Excess consumption of alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase stress hormones, so their consumption should be limited.
Coffee is definitely good for brain health. There is a lot of research showing it is very healthy and can be protective against dementia.
However, it can also disrupt sleep and make people anxious. I used to not be able to handle any coffee at all. But now that I’m healthy, I can handle it just fine. I drink one cup of Kicking Horse coffee most mornings.
But if youre struggling with high cortisol and chronic stress, I wouldnt recommend high doses of caffeine.
Its been shown to directly stimulate the adrenal cortex, release cortisol into the bloodstream and increase stress hormone levels .
One study found that caffeine increased cortisol by 30% in just one hour, and regular consumption can double your cortisol levels .
So limit it as much as possible.
An alternative solution is to consume the whole coffee fruit, instead of drinking coffee.
The coffee fruit doesnt contain caffeine, but it does contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.
Stick To A Regular Eating Schedule
Though it can be tricky at times, sticking to an eating schedule is a great way to keep stress under control. This is in part because it takes the guesswork out of when your next meal will be, which in and of itself can be a source of anxiety. In turn, sticking to a schedule can also help prevent stress-eating, another habit that can contribute to an uptick in cortisol levels, especially since we tend to reach for cortisol-boosting sweets and comfort foods when we’re overloaded.
“Recognize if and when you are engaging in stress eating: Try to keep a regular eating schedule where you avoid ever getting too hungry and avoid ever stuffing yourself to the brim,” advises Miller. “Before grabbing a snack, take a minute to ask yourself if you are truly hungry. You may find that you are really just stressed and looking for something to munch on or you are bored. Try to structure an eating routine where you eat a meal/snack every 3-4 hours while awake.”
Don’t Miss: Cortisol And Weight Gain Stomach
Consume A Healthy Balanced Diet
Cortisol-friendly foods have long been a topic of research. Consumption of high fat/high carbohydrate foods, which exist rarely in nature, is linked to HPA axis dysregulation and an overall increase in cortisol levels . Conversely, diets low in carbohydrate intake are also linked to higher cortisol levels, especially in females .
Similarly, long-term low-calorie dieting can also increase cortisol levels and disrupt sleep . Overall, a healthy balanced diet with adequate high-quality carbohydrates and adequate vitamins and minerals is your best bet to achieving ideal cortisol secretion patterns. If weight loss is desired, consider shorter periods of calorie deficits intermixed with periods of maintenance calories to minimize the stress response from dieting.
Related resource to check out:Preventing Stress-Related Weight Gain
Unwind At The End Of The Day
Engaging in daily relaxation techniques can interrupt the stress response and allow your body to return to homeostasis. Techniques such as progressive relaxation, visualization, guided meditation, breathing exercises, and autogenic training can be used daily to reduce both acute and long-term stress .
Also Check: Symptoms Of Low Estrogen Men
Try An Adaptogenic Herb
Adaptogens are a group of fungi and plant-derived compounds that help the body adapt to stress and are known for their ability to reset the body and restore natural functioning. Re-establishing healthy, pre-stress cortisol levels is one of the many benefits of including these supplements in your diet. Ashwagandha, one of the most popular members of this group, has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol levels and calm anxiety. Ginseng and rhodiola are some of our other favorite adaptogens that may help balance your cortisol levels. Try adding these to your morning smoothie, coffee, tea, or even baked goods or discussing further with your Parsley Health clinician or health coach to receive recommendations on high quality brands and specific adaptogens that may work best for you.
Swap Intense Workouts For Gentle Exercise
The length and intensity of your workouts can have a big impact on your cortisol levels. High intensity exercise, around 80 percent of your maximal oxygen uptake, even when done for just 30 minutes significantly elevates cortisol levels. Consistent long-duration exercise can also raise your cortisol level.
When scientists studied the cortisol concentrations in the hair of endurance athletes, they found higher concentrations than in non-endurance athletes. Lower intensity workouts on the other hand, like yoga, can reduce cortisol levels by deactivating the stress response, increasing parasympathetic activity, and decreasing norepinephrine.
Read Also: How To Feminize Yourself Without Hormones
Will My Cortisol Levels Get Out Of Whack If I Am A Night Owl Or Work Night Shifts
The truth? Probably. Youre likely to throw off your natural cortisol rhythm when youre not following your bodys internal sleep clock even if you meet your sleep needs.
The good news is that the more regular your irregular sleep pattern is, the better it seems for adjusting your cortisol levels to night shifts.
Your circadian rhythm and your cortisol peak times can be shifted to some extent over time. But a study among permanent night shift workers showcases how a complete reversal or adjustment of your circadian rhythm is close to impossible. The study found that less than 3% showed signs of complete circadian adjustment and that they showed symptoms of chronically high cortisol levels. This is even harder to achieve when shift workers are expected to follow a regular day and night rhythm during days off.
So even if your night owl chronotype suggests that your optimal sleep and wake time is later than average, shifting or late bedtimes can lead to what experts call circadian misalignment and increased health risks from elevated cortisol.
Addisons Disease And Adrenal Insufficiency
Addisons disease, also called primary adrenal insufficiency, is a rare disorder. It occurs when your adrenal glands produce too little cortisol. This disease can be caused by:
Secondary adrenal insufficiency is more common than Addisons disease. If your pituitary gland is functioning as it should, it releases ACTH, which in turn signals your adrenal glands to make cortisol when your body needs it.
But with secondary adrenal insufficiency, theres a problem with your pituitary gland. As a result, your adrenal glands dont receive the signal to make cortisol when you need it. If your adrenal glands dont get that message, they may eventually shrink.
Disrupted cortisol levels dont only impact your ability to sleep. They can also affect other aspects of your health. For instance, disrupted cortisol levels can cause:
- changes in your metabolism
Balancing your cortisol levels can take time. While youre working on it, here are some ways you can aim for a better nights rest:
Also Check: How To Balance Hormones After Plan B
Eat A Healthy Carb At Dinner
It might sound counterintuitive, but a small serving of a healthy carb at dinner like quinoa, brown rice, squash, or sweet potato can actually regulate blood sugar levels and help you have a better sleep. Cortisol and insulin have an inverse relationship, meaning when cortisol is high, insulin is low, so that healthy carb in the evening spikes your insulin and lowers your cortisol. This helps you to relax and prepare for bed and a restful sleep.
High Cortisol Vs Lower Cortisol Levels
The amount of cortisol in the body generally peaks in the early morning and decreases as the day goes on. Abnormally high levels of cortisol in the body can be caused by some steroid medications or underlying health issues.
Chronic or toxic stress can also be a factor that causes unusually high levels of cortisol.
In a state of constant stress, cortisol levels remain elevated and lead to problems with anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances among other symptoms.
These types of problems are a major reason why many people turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their symptoms, which can lead to substance use disorders and the need for treatment.
Learning how to reduce cortisol levels naturally is a much healthier response than turning to substances to deal with stress ad anxiety.
Also Check: What Is The Maximum Dose Of Melatonin At Night
How Is Cortisol Measured
Cortisol is measured using urine, saliva, and blood tests. Below is a breakdown of each kind of test.
Cortisol urine test: This kind of test measures free cortisol in your urine three to four times throughout the day. Urinary free cortisol tests, like the Everlywell at-home Sleep & Stress Test, are useful for checking how your cortisol levels change over a 24-hour period and can help provide insight into sleep problems, stressors, and more.
Cortisol saliva test: This test also measures the amount of free cortisol in the body, but through a saliva sample. Late-night salivary cortisolâ âthe measurement of cortisol in a saliva sample collected late at nightâ âis a reliable way to screen for Cushing syndrome.
Cortisol blood test: Blood tests measure either free cortisol or total cortisol. Blood total cortisol tests are helpful for diagnosing certain conditions, such as adrenal insufficiency in patients with critical illnesses like severe pneumonia and respiratory distress syndrome.
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.
You May Like: How To Boost Male Testosterone