How Cortisol Affects Your Sleep
Do you have trouble falling asleep and can’t figure out why? The hormone cortisol may be at play. Cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress and other factors. It plays a crucial role in the body's stress response and helps regulate various physiological processes, including sleep.
Under normal circumstances, cortisol levels follow a natural daily pattern, with higher levels in the morning to help wake you up and lower levels in the evening to promote sleep. However, chronic stress, certain medical conditions, or disruptions to the body's natural rhythms can lead to an imbalance in cortisol levels, which can impact sleep in several ways.
Different Ways Cortisol Impacts Sleep
Elevated cortisol levels, particularly at night, can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Stressful situations or anxiety can trigger the release of cortisol, making it difficult to relax and quiet your mind for sleep.
Increased cortisol levels can cause sleep fragmentation, leading to frequent awakenings throughout the night. This can result in a poorer quality of sleep and leave you feeling tired and unrested.
Delayed sleep onset
Cortisol is involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, and disruptions in its normal pattern can delay the onset of sleep. Higher cortisol levels in the evening can keep you more alert and make it harder to fall asleep at your desired bedtime.
REM sleep suppression
Cortisol has been found to suppress rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the stage of sleep associated with dreaming and cognitive restoration. Reduced REM sleep can negatively impact memory, learning, and emotional regulation.
Strategies That Can Help Regulate Cortisol
Regulating cortisol levels can help promote better overall health and improve sleep. To maintain healthy cortisol levels, it's particularly important to manage stress effectively. Adopting relaxation techniques, practicing good sleep hygiene, engaging in regular exercise, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle can help regulate cortisol levels and improve sleep quality.
Chronic stress is a significant contributor to elevated cortisol levels, so engaging in stress management techniques can be effective in reducing cortisol. Consider incorporating practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness, or other activities you find relaxing and enjoyable.
Physical activity has been shown to help regulate cortisol levels. Aim for regular exercise, which can include aerobic activities, strength training, or any form of physical activity that you enjoy. However, avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, as it can increase cortisol levels and interfere with sleep.
Establish a consistent sleep routine
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help regulate cortisol levels. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it's time to wind down. Avoid stimulating activities and bright screens before bedtime, as they can inhibit the natural decrease in cortisol.
Improve your sleep environment
Create a sleep-friendly environment that promotes relaxation. Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Use comfortable bedding and a supportive mattress. Consider using techniques such as white noise or calming music to help you relax and drift off to sleep.
A healthy and balanced diet can contribute to cortisol regulation. Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as they can disrupt sleep and impact cortisol levels. Instead, focus on a nutrient-rich diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
More and more research shows the beneficial impact of good relationships on your health. Building and maintaining strong social connections can help buffer the impact of stress and reduce cortisol levels. Spend time with supportive friends and family, join social groups or clubs, and cultivate positive relationships.
Engage in relaxation techniques throughout the day to help reduce cortisol. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and aromatherapy are some techniques that can promote relaxation and lower stress levels.
Seek professional help
If chronic stress or high cortisol levels persist despite self-help strategies, it may be beneficial to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. Our Village Green nutritionists can evaluate your specific situation and provide further personalized recommendations. Cortisol testing is also available.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to help the body cope with stress. It may help reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation. Research has shown that ashwagandha supplementation can help improve stress response and reduce anxiety.
Rhodiola is another adaptogenic herb that may help regulate cortisol levels and support stress adaptation. It has been studied for its potential to reduce stress-related fatigue, enhance mood, and improve overall well-being.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that plays a role in cellular function, including the regulation of cortisol. It has been studied for its potential to support a healthy stress response and reduce cortisol levels, especially with athletes.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in various physiological processes, including stress response. It can help relax the muscles and promote relaxation. Research shows that magnesium supplementation may help modulate cortisol levels and improve sleep quality.
It may take time to find the best strategies that work for you, to manage your cortisol. Consistency and a comprehensive approach are key to achieving balanced cortisol levels and promoting better sleep and overall well-being.
Humanized Health - NEW!
Learn about personalized health from top experts! Check out our fascinating new shows every week, available as videos, podcasts and transcripts.:
Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
Margo's impressive knowledge base is the result of a unique blend of educational and professional experience.
Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND is a pioneer of integrative medicine and a leading authority on science-based natural medicine.
Debi is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, a personal trainer, and whole health coach.
Teri is a is a Certified Coach Practitioner with extensive certifications and experience in holistic medicinal practices.
Dr. Rav Ivker
Dr. Rav Ivker is a holistic family physician, health educator, and best-selling author.
Susan writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Dr. Rob Brown
Dr. Brown's blended perspective of healthcare includes a deeply rooted passion for wellness and spiritual exploration.