Get Enough Quality Sleep
One of the ways to prevent suffering from the symptoms of high cortisol is to get enough sleep.
The reason that not getting enough sleep impacts your health so much is that it affects the HPA axis and cortisol levels. Scientists have found that getting quality sleep is just as important as getting enough sleep to help maintain proper cortisol levels.
Excess cortisol levels are just one of the ways a lack of sleep affects your body. Find out what else happens to your health when you dont get enough sleep.
If you have trouble getting to sleep, find out which foods can help to get a better nights sleep.
What Does Cortisol Do To My Body
Almost all tissues in your body have glucocorticoid receptors. Because of this, cortisol can affect nearly every organ system in your body, including:
- Integumentary system .
More specifically, cortisol affects your body in the following ways:
Optimum cortisol levels are necessary for life and for maintaining several bodily functions. If you have consistently high or low cortisol levels, it can have negative impacts on your overall health.
Cortisol Levels And Stress: How Cortisol Levels And Stress Are Connected
Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on January 12, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
If youâve ever found yourself in a stressful situation, you may have experienced symptoms associated with the common âfight or flightâ responseâsuch as heart pounding, heavier breathing, muscles tensing, and increased sweating. This is your bodyâs way of reacting to stress, such as when youâre in danger. But what role do cortisol levels play when it comes to stress?
Thatâs what weâll explore in more depth here, so read on if youâre interested in learning more about the connection between cortisol levels and stress.
See how your cortisol levels change throughout the day and whether they may be too high or too low with the easy-to-use, at-home Sleep & Stress Test.
Read Also: Low Hormone Birth Control Pill
Negative Effects Of High Cortisol
Adrenal imbalance in women tends to peak between the ages of 35 and 55 and most often shows up in one of the following ways:
- You’re always active and feel “wired.” Your system is constantly fueled by adrenaline and cortisol to create what feels like a continual state of hyper-energy. Yet you often feel drained.
- You can’t get up in the morning but you can’t sleep at night. Your natural 24-cycle of energy and relaxation is off-balance. If you’re able to fall asleep, you may wake up in the middle of the night fully alert.
- You have no energy period. You feel exhausted all the time. Even getting out of bed often feels like a challenge. You may also experience intense cravings and unexplained weight gain.
Adrenal imbalance may be a factor in many other serious conditions, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, arthritis, anxiety at night and more.
Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
Chronically high cortisol levels, or hypercortisolism, can ultimately lead to a medical condition known as Cushing syndrome. According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms associated with Cushing syndrome can include:
- Rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest, and abdomen
- A flushed and round face
- High blood pressure
- Skin changes
- Muscle weakness
How Is The Cortisol Level Test Done
A blood sample is used to measure cortisol levels. Most blood samples are collected using this process:
- The flow of blood in the arm is stopped by wrapping an elastic band around your upper arm. This also causes the veins in your arm to become more visible, making it easier to insert the needle.
- Alcohol is used to clean the site on your skin where the needle will be inserted.
- The needle is inserted into the vein. This may cause a brief pinching or stinging sensation.
- Your blood is collected in a tube thats attached to the needle. More than one tube may be needed.
- The elastic band is removed after enough blood has been collected.
- As the needle is removed from your skin, cotton or gauze is placed on the site of the needle insertion.
- Pressure is applied to the area using cotton or gauze. A bandage is used to secure the cotton or gauze.
There are few risks associated with the cortisol level test. The test is done by taking a blood sample from your vein, which may result in some bruising at the site where the needle was inserted.
In rare cases, the following risks may be associated with having blood drawn from your vein:
- excessive bleeding
- an accumulation of blood beneath your skin, which is called a hematoma
- lightheadedness or fainting
Cortisol levels are sometimes decreased by:
- drugs containing androgens
Higher-than-usual cortisol levels may indicate that:
When Should I See My Doctor About My Cortisol Levels
If you experience symptoms of Cushings syndrome or adrenal insufficiency, contact your healthcare provider.
If youre concerned about your daily stress levels, talk to your provider about steps you can take to minimize your stress and stay healthy.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cortisol is an essential hormone that impacts several aspects of your body. While there are several things you can do to try to limit your stress, and therefore manage your cortisol levels, sometimes having abnormally high or low levels of cortisol is out of your control.
If you experience symptoms of high or low cortisol levels, such as weight gain or loss and high or low blood pressure, respectively, its important to contact your healthcare provider. They can run some simple tests to see if your adrenal glands or pituitary gland are responsible for your symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/10/2021.
How Does It Happen
The body system that controls hormone production is the endocrine system.
Within this system, the glands work together and produce different types of hormones.
The hormones that one gland produces can directly affect the hormone production of other glands.
These glands include the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, pancreas, ovaries, and testicles.
The adrenal glands are just above the kidneys. They produce cortisol, along with other hormones. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, and it is the major natural glucocorticoid in humans.
Cortisol helps to regulate how the body turns proteins, carbohydrates, and fat from food into energy.
It also helps to control blood pressure and blood glucose levels and to maintain cardiovascular function. It can suppress the immune system, and it affects how the body responds to stress.
When cortisol levels are persistently high, Cushings syndrome can result.
Genetic factors may play a role in some cases, but Cushings syndrome and Cushings disease do not appear to run in families.
There are two types of Cushings syndrome.
Why Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Bad For You
If your entire life is high-stress and always in high gear, your body may constantly pump out cortisol. This has several negative effects.
What Are The Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
Regular and prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels can wreak havoc on your body. Over time this can cause Cushings syndrome. Some of the most common signs of high cortisol levels include:
- weight gain particularly around your stomach, upper back, and face
- bruising and slow wound healing
- weak bones
- sleep problems
- difficulty concentrating
Pituitary Adenomas Cushings Disease
Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the pituitary gland that secrete increased amounts of ACTH causing excessive cortisol production. Most patients have a single adenoma. First described in 1912 by neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, MD, in his book The Pituitary Body and Its Disorders, Cushings disease is the most common cause of spontaneous Cushings syndrome, accounting for 60-70 percent of all cases.
What Is Cortisol For
We all need cortisol. The problem is the amount in which this hormone is released. The hypothalamus sends warning signals to the nerves and hormones when you are under stress. These are automatically activated to be removed and send large amounts of energy to the muscles. Cortisol in the right amount is used to :
- Regulate blood pressure.
- It controls the effect of insulin to maintain an adequate level of sugar in the blood.
- Regulates the immune system.
- It allows you to control stress and respond to it.
- It uses sugar and fat as a source of energy for the body and stores it for prolonged fasting moments.
What Happens If I Have Too Much Cortisol
Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can lead to a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. This can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as a tumour that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone , or taking certain types of drugs. The symptoms include:
- rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest and abdomen contrasted with slender arms and legs
- a flushed and round face
- high blood pressure
- skin changes
- muscle weakness
- mood swings, which show as anxiety, depression or irritability
- increased thirst and frequency of urination.
High cortisol levels over a prolonged time can also cause lack of sex drive and, in women, periods can become irregular, less frequent or stop altogether .
In addition, there has been a long-standing association between raised or impaired regulation of cortisol levels and a number of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, the significance of this is not yet clearly understood.
How Can Nutritional Supplements Support Your Adrenal Glands
- High-quality vitamins and minerals help support a healthy metabolism and hormonal balance, which contribute to adrenal health. Our Essential Nutrients, with 30 vitamins and minerals, is an easy-to-take formulation that builds a strong nutritional foundation.
- Specific herbal supplements, such as astragalus root and eleuthuro , are effective at reducing the negative side effects of stress. Others, such as passionflower, produce calming effects and encourage sleep. Many of these herbs are found in our natural formulations Adaptisol and Serinisol.
High Cortisol Signs And Symptoms In Women
When cortisol production is balanced, levels of the hormone naturally rise and fall during the day. These patterns are tightly connected to your circadian rhythm sleep/wake cycle.
Cortisol levels are usually lowest between midnight and 4:00 AM and then gradually increase until around 8:00 AM. Rising cortisol helps you to wake up and start the day. After 8:00 AM, cortisol declines incrementally throughout the day to gradually prepare you for sleep.
This daily rhythm is the norm — unless you encounter a stressful event. In response to danger, your body temporarily raises levels of cortisol and adrenaline to handle the stressful event. After the stressors have passed, cortisol and adrenaline levels return to normal.
Thats the way its supposed to work. Yet when chronic stress leads to unnaturally high cortisol levels, it creates a state of adrenal imbalance that often triggers a cascade of adrenal-related symptoms:
- Thyroid imbalances
How To Take Action
See your doctor if you are having symptoms of chronic stress. Theres a saliva test that can measure the amount of cortisol in your system, or your doctor may have other ideas about whats causing your symptoms.
Be aware of your own stress levels and takes steps to manage your stress. Simple practices such as getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating, deep breathing techniques and scheduling leisure activities are a good start.
Urinary Free Cortisol Measurement
In some centers, testing begins with a 24-hour measurement of urinary free cortisol, which is elevated > 120 mcg/24 hours in almost all patients with Cushing syndrome. However, many patients with elevations of urinary free cortisol between 100 and 150 mcg/24 hours have obesity, depression, or polycystic ovaries but not Cushing syndrome. Normal ranges may vary according to assay.
A patient with suspected Cushing syndrome with grossly elevated urinary free cortisol almost certainly has Cushing syndrome. Two to three normal collections usually exclude the diagnosis. Slightly elevated levels generally necessitate further investigation, as do normal levels when clinical suspicion is high.
A baseline morning serum cortisol measurement should also be done.
Identifying And Correcting Elevated Cortisol Levels
The following protocol was developed at Julias The Nutritional Therapy Institute Clinic after the publication of The Mood Cure when we began to see some antidepressant detoxers who needed more help for insomnia and agitation than they could get from the nutritional support program listed on the previous pages.
Cortisol is the primary stress-response hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is highly energizing. In some vulnerable detoxers SSRI withdrawal triggers an abnormal cortisol surge that exacerbates anxiety and insomnia.
Treatment Of Cushing’s Disease
Transphenoidal removal of the tumor is the treatment of choice for Cushing’s disease.2931 Cure is likely if the patient develops hypocortisolism in the first few days to weeks after surgery.28,32 Most patients are rendered hypoadrenal for months to years after the procedure.33 During this period, they require glucocorticoid replacement therapy.
Pituitary irradiation can induce remission of disease in more than one half of patients with recurrence after surgery.33 Patients who are not cured may require total bilateral adrenalectomy to control their symptoms.29
Ketoconazole and aminoglutethimide , which are inhibitors of adrenal steroid biosynthesis, may be used in the perioperative period to decrease the clinical effects of hypercortisolism.3
Patients who have been surgically treated for Cushing’s disease require careful long-term follow-up and monitoring for signs and symptoms of tumor recurrence. The pituitary adrenal axis must be evaluated six to 12 months after surgery to determine the potential need for lifetime exogenous steroid replacement therapy. Patients with panhypopituitarism subsequent to surgery require lifetime monitoring and titration of hormone therapy.
All patients who need glucocorticoid replacement therapy should be given careful instructions about the effects of stress and illness on glucocorticoid dosages. In addition, these patients should wear appropriate medical alert labels.
Symptoms Of Elevated Cortisol
One of the symptoms of high cortisol is rapid weight gain. Other symptoms include chronic fatigue, nervousness, depression, insomnia, digestive problems , sweating, and frequent urination. In men, there may be a decrease in testosterone and potency disorders.
Another characteristic of elevated cortisol levels is an increased heart rate at rest. This effect is due to the hormone that causes the arteries to narrow, which makes the heart work harder, which, again, has a negative impact on health.
Symptoms of high cortisol:
- increased pulse
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:
- an infection
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:
Significantly Elevated Cortisol Levels Only At Night
Hello, here is information about what I have going on. Feel free to ask any questions, and I am only looking for suggestions and comments about what I should do from here.
I am 22 years old, male, and weight 195 pounds, with a muscular build.
Symptoms:-Elevated Anxiety-Depression Symptoms, mostly loss of motivation and pleasure from activities I used to enjoy-Sleep issue being that I wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, feeling like I had a rush of adrenaline with heart racing
I have been experiencing these symptoms my entire life and they have gotten progressively worse, with the exception for the sleep issue, which has gotten worse since I gained weight over the past few months.
I took an at home cortisol test, and my levels were extremely elevated from the 1st collection I took, immediately after waking at 8am. The 4th collection after dinner was slightly low. This was a urine test. I slept all night without issue before the test.
1st collection: 88 ug/g 2nd collection: 23.7 ug/g 3rd collection: 10 ug/g 4th collection: 15.2 ug/g
I believe I have REM-induced sleep apnea, which explains why my entire life I seemed to not dream much. I am working with a sleep doctor on this now, but progress is slow. My main question is as follows:
Thank you in advance, help is much needed.
You may be interested in other discussions related to using a CPAP machine in the Sleep Health group here: