Cortisol and sleep - do you know how they’re connected? It’s probably not something you think about a lot, after all, we know cortisol as the ‘stress hormone’. However, you might be surprised to learn that:
17-19 hours of sleep deprivation are equal to a blood alcohol rating of 0.05% (BAC)
And now you’re probably, thinking:
“OK, that’s bad, but how are cortisol and sleep relevant?”
More than you’d think. In this post, we’ll discuss the cortisol and sleep connection, why you’re probably disrupting your wake-sleep cycles and how to get back on track to feel better than ever (and boost your immune system while at it!)
Before we dive into it, let me tell you a story:
Recently I took some extra hours at work and was pulling in 12-hr shift per day, 5-6 days a week. The only things I did were work and sleep and if I remembered -and was not too tired- maybe ate something. After week three of this madness, I didn’t know if I was coming or going. It was brutal.
Sound familiar? I am willing to bet that a lot of us live our lives this way.
But living like this disrupts our rhythm. Not the ‘bust a move’ kind of rhythm (although you’re probably not the best dancer when sleep-deprived,) but our cortisol rhythm. And without a firm rhythm in place, we can easily feel -and fall- out of balance.
Most of us know cortisol as a stress hormone. But did you know that, along with adrenaline, cortisol is one of the main response chemicals produced by the adrenal glands?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone responsible not just for the stress response but for other bodily functions as well; it regulates the metabolism, the immune response, and supports proper communication between every cell in the body.
Cortisol secretion is controlled by the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Gland Axis (HPGA), which includes the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland.
Cortisol levels rise during the day and slowly fall at nighttime:
When cortisol is in a healthy rhythm, cortisol is highest in the morning to give you energy to get your day started and keep inflammation low and your immune response at its peak. It is naturally lowest before bed, allowing you to wind down into a rest-and-repair phase.
As you can see from the cortisol cycle, cortisol and sleep are deeply intertwined. It’s not just your mind racing at night over problems, it’s also the fact that you need cortisol secretions at the right times during the day to properly function, feel energized, and go to sleep at an optimal time.
Studies show that these sleep and wake cycles, also called ‘Circadian Rhythms’ are at the basic level dependant on cortisol and melatonin release, however both of these hormones “synchronize to stimuli such as photoperiod and activity.” This means that while our ‘inner clock’ is predictive of solar time, it is affected by activity (what you do in a day, including choosing not to sleep) and light.
Melatonin and Cortisol are the central pacemakers modulating energy and repair according to the body’s needs and its environment. Cortisol and sleep are therefore affected by:
This also explains why sleep deprivation also makes you a little cranky, extra anxious, and even depressed: hormones that regulate and control your body are out of sync. Cortisol and sleep feed and live off each other.
Related: understanding sleep stages.
Many long-term chronic health problems can be traced to disturbances in the natural cortisol pattern. Health issues like obesity, diabetes, digestive problems and even cancer have been linked to disturbances in cortisol rhythm. Knowing this makes actively trying to get cortisol and sleep in check the logical next step.
During the last few days of that work-non-stop-madness, my cortisol and sleep rhythm was out of sorts and I felt the effects for sure. You may be experiencing the same, without noticing because it’s just your new normal.
Resetting my cortisol rhythm was one of the most important steps I took to feel balanced and ensure long term health again and I strongly recommend it to everyone trying to take back control of their energy and health.
The good news is that resetting your cortisol and sleep rhythm doesn’t require any fancy foods, crazy diet plans, supplements, or exercise regimes. It’s actually shockingly simple, it does, however, require a commitment.
Resetting your cortisol and sleep cycle will:
And ultimately look and feel better. What’s not to love?
HERE ARE SIX SIMPLE STEPS TO RESETTING YOUR CORTISOL AND SLEEP RHYTHM AND WITH IT, YOUR ADRENAL STRESS RESPONSE:
If you have been reading my articles or listening to my recent videos, you know that I love my sleep. This is because it is the ultimate pause you need at the end of every day; it’s impossible to reset your internal clocks without good quality and enough quantity sleep. Here are a few good reasons why (in case you skipped them before):
I’ve found that I need at least seven hours of good sleep every night to reset cortisol rhythm, but everyone is different. Strive to learn your sleep requirements better, so you can work on your cortisol and sleep cycle.
When you sleep, your brain processes the knowledge, memories, information and cellular waste that accumulates in it during the day, as does your body. Those that believe you can sleep when you are dead, think again!
IS BEDTIME AND WAKE TIME IMPORTANT?
The simple answer is … ABSOLUTELY! A healthy cortisol and sleep cycle has you awake and asleep at roughly the same time every day. Aim to waking up by about 7:00 a.m. and getting to bed between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Make sure you sleep and don’t stay on your phone (that blue light!)
Go for a digital detox an hour before you sleep to really help you wind down. Reading a real book (you know, one with pages?), taking a hot bath, journaling, meditating and even having sex are some other things you can do to help you get to sleep more easily.
This is a tough situation, because working nights is inherently affects the cortisol and sleep cycle. But don’t fret, there are things you can do to protect yourself:
#2. FOLLOW THE LIGHT
The light spectrum is a part of what helps keep your cortisol and sleep cycle balanced
I have talked about my transformation in my previous articles and how I suffered from leaky gut. That was in part because of a low carb diet. While a low carb diet may sound like a weight-loss winner, a very low carb diet can actually increases your cortisol and worsen the likelihood of putting on belly fat.
I found that I benefited from eating a small healthy carbohydrate choice three to five hours before going to sleep to help create a healthier cortisol and sleep a definite win-win for me. Healthy choices include a serving of:
It is important to note that eating within three hours of bedtime can impair both sleep and cortisol, but skipping meals also has a negative impact on cortisol.
I find that relaxing and rebooting mentally and emotionally after a hard or long workday leads to healthier cortisol levels and better sleep. Make it a weekday end-of-work habit to decompress for even just 15 minutes with a favorite activity when you get home from work.
My personal favorite things to do are to scream as loudly as I can in my car on my drive back home after work and doing very deep breath work while in the shower. Pick whatever works for you, some great choice are:
There are many healthy foods that keep you awake. And a great cup of coffee can be one of life’s pleasures. However, caffeine, including from green tea, chai and chocolate, can keep you up at night. So doing a caffeine detox after two pem can really help reset your cortisol and sleep cycle.
Additionally wine, like coffee, can feel like ‘a gift that keeps on giving.’ But I’ve found that when I detoxed from alcohol, my sleep improved dramatically, particularly my ability to stay asleep and feel refreshed in the morning.
Chronic inflammation is huge trigger of cortisol and sleep imbalances. In addition to the blood sugar balance, processed foods, poor-quality fats and a high-sugar diets can cause inflammation that can lead to chronically overactivated cortisol production. Cleaning up your diet so you’re only getting real, healthy, low-inflammatory foods can do wonders for your adrenal reset.
When your cortisol levels are out of sorts, it can present a myriad of issues like trouble sleeping, anxiety and weight problems that can be a nuance and tough to bear.
The good news is that there is so much you can do from nutrition to exercise to lifestyle and the 6 steps outlined above are a great place to start. Eat, sleep and live in a way that supports your body’s endocrine systems. You deserve it!
What do you do to keep your cortisol and sleep cycle leveled? Share your formula in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
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