There are a lot of things that can stop you from getting a great night’s sleep. One of the biggest factors can be your stress levels. Stress effects on sleep have been well-documented. However, not everyone understands how your cortisol levels, the main stress hormone, can affect sleep. We wanted to dive deeper to see how cortisol influences your sleep and what can be done about it.
Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone. It helps control your mood, fear and motivation. It also keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure, increases your blood sugar, and boosts your energy. But the function we want to focus on is how cortisol controls your sleep-wake cycle.
Your sleep-wake cycle follows your circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle synchronized with night and day. As a result, your body knows when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Cortisol production follows a similar circadian rhythm. Your levels rise about 2-3 hours after you fall asleep, keep rising into the early morning and waking hours, peak around 9am, and gradually decline as the day goes on.
The hypothalmus and pituitary gland in your brain can sense if you have the right level of cortisol. If your levels are too low, your brain can adjust the amount it makes. However, issues can occur from having too much cortisol as well. That’s why it’s important for your levels to be balanced.
What Affects Your Cortisol Levels
Balancing cortisol levels can be an important step in improving your sleep quality. There are a few different factors that may cause high cortisol symptoms.
High intakes of animal proteins, refined sugars, salt, and fat can negatively affect your cortisol secretion. As a result, your sleep quality could suffer. Conversely, fruits and vegetables are foods that help you sleep. Try eliminating cortisol-triggering foods from your diet, while eating more fruits and veggies, if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Too much stress or a traumatic experience can also impact your levels. Normally, after a dangerous or stressful event has passed, you return to normal cortisol levels. However, your levels can stay high for an extended amount of time if you’re under constant stress. Conversely, your levels can also drop if you’ve experienced trauma or have PTSD. In fact, Holocaust survivors were found to have lower levels of cortisol, even decades after the war. In addition, survivors of sexual assault and abuse had lower levels as well. Typically, the earlier the trauma occurs in someone’s life, the more permanent the change in levels.
Certain sleep disorders, like obstructive sleep apnea, can cause your cortisol production to spike. Those dealing with insomnia also tend to have higher levels. However, it’s unclear if the elevated levels are the cause or the consequence of insomnia.
There are other disorders and diseases that are correlated to your cortisol levels. Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body produces too much of the hormone. This usually happens when you take too much corticosteroid medications over a long period of time. In addition, there is Cushing’s disease, which is different from the syndrome of the same name. Cushing’s disease occurs when there are increased cortisol levels caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. With Cushing’s, you may experience rapid weight gain, muscle weakness, easily bruising skin, diabetes and more.
Lastly, you can suffer from Addison’s disease, which is the result of your adrenal gland producing too little cortisol. Cancer, infections, or an autoimmune condition can cause this rare disease. Addison’s disease can lead to chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and low blood pressure.
What Can Be Done?
There are quite a few things you can do to help lower your cortisol levels. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor first to make sure you get to the root of the issue. Regular exercise is a great way to lower your levels and get great sleep. But you should find the right routine and workout schedule that will help you sleep best. You should also try to cut out the triggering foods previously discussed from your diet. Make lowering your stress levels a priority. There are many different relaxation techniques you can practice to help with this. In addition, you can try supplements like fish oil and ashwagandha herb.
Chat With Our Sleep Consultants
Getting proper sleep should always be a priority. Aside from making sure you’re balancing cortisol levels, you should check to see if you’re on the right mattress. Stop by your local Sit ‘n Sleep and speak to one of our Sleep Consultants. We can help you find the perfect mattress for your unique sleeping needs.