Cortisol, the substance we often associate with stress, profoundly impacts sleep and waking in one's body. It's common to have trouble sleeping from time to time for various reasons. And high cortisol levels could be one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation.
Cortisol promotes alertness when a threat or stressor stimulates your body's fight-or-flight response. Another role that gets most of its attention is regulating other vital functions like the immune system and the sleep-wake cycle.
But how does cortisol affect your sleep? Discover more in the guide below.
What is Cortisol
Cortisol is an alerting and stimulating hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It's the body's main stress hormone. Prompted by a complex network integrating elements of the central nervous and adrenal systems, cortisol steers the body's fight or flight response in case of a threat or stressor. But cortisol does more than trigger a fight or flight response.
This hormone serves plenty of other functions, including but not limited to the following:
- Influencing inflammation
- Regulating energy levels
- Controlling blood pressure
- Balancing blood sugar
- Controlling the sleep-wake cycle
Cortisol is essential in your body only if it's in the right amount. If it's too high for an extended period, it can cause various health problems, including:
- Foggy brain and issues with memory and focus
- Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure
- Weight gain by triggering appetite
- Digestive problems
- Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
How Does Cortisol Work?
Cortisol helps your body respond to stress, besides serving other vital roles. This hormone is produced in the adrenal glands and later released into your bloodstream to stimulate a flood of glucose that delivers immediate energy to your muscles.
When you encounter stress, your brain prompts the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenalin to increase energy and prohibit unnecessary or harmful functions in fight or flight mode.
What Factors Contribute to Cortisol Production
Everyone experiences high cortisol now and then, and levels change dramatically throughout the day. It's part of your body's natural response to potential harm. However, if your body produces high cortisol, it typically implies an underlying health issue.
Given below are some of the factors that contribute to cortisol production:
Stress causes a cascade of signals transmitted throughout the body from hormones and nerves. These signals trigger your adrenal glands to release hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. Long-term exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can negatively affect the majority of your body's processes. This may elevate your risk of health problems, including obesity, anxiety, heart disease, and more.
- Medication Side Effects
Some medications, including those used to treat arthritis, asthma, and cancer, can foster the production of cortisol. Taking such medicines as prescribed by the doctor may help lower the likelihood of developing high levels of cortisol.
Other factors that encourage the production of cortisol include:
- Sleep deprivation or disruption
- Trauma and grief
- Chronic pain
- Relationship issues
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
- Irregular bedtimes
How about the signs of high cortisol levels? The symptoms of high cortisol levels in your body are endless and are often confused with other conditions. As such, you should always confer with your physician if you endure the following:
- Mood swings, such as depression and anxiety
- Sleep apnea
- Increased urination
- Irregular periods and low libido
- Flushed face
- Compromised immune system
- Sleep problems like insomnia
- Increased appetite and other signs of weight gain
How to Avoid High Cortisol Levels
Since cortisol plays a crucial role in your overall health and other body functions, it would help to focus on attaining healthy cortisol levels. Here's the perfect way to achieve that naturally:
- Keep a journal or a planner: Ensure you empty your head before going to bed or as you wake up.
- Relax: Get a good massage and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
- Laugh: Do things that bring you joy and surround yourself with individuals that make you happy.
- Healthy Diet: Try natural supplements, including L-theanine and magnesium. Avoid unhealthy alternatives for coping with stress, such as tobacco, alcohol, and excess caffeine.
What is the Link Between Sleep and Cortisol?
The link between cortisol and sleep quality is a hot topic in sleep research. Though high cortisol levels help jumpstart your day, having excessive cortisol all day and close to bedtime is terrible for your sleep-wake cycle.
Elevated cortisol spells doom for sleep because adrenaline also appears alongside cortisol, increasing your heart rate and body temperature. This makes it challenging to fall asleep, let alone transition from light to deep sleep.
Poor sleep, induced by too much cortisol, increases your sleep debt while decreasing your next-day energy levels. Predictably, you aren't feeling and operating optimally. People suffering from sleep apnea often exhibit high cortisol levels, which is perceived to be a result of compromised breathing and chronic sleep loss linked with this condition.
Is Women's Sleep Affected More by Cortisol?
Yes, it's possible. Constant high cortisol levels may affect women's menstrual cycle and libido because these stress hormones bring down estrogen levels. This results in hormonal imbalance with symptoms synonymous with menopause: sleep issues, mood swings, night sweats, and fat deposits in the body's midsection.
Sleep might also be worsened for menopausal women because depression, stress, along with anxiety are known to rise during this period. Cortisol levels increase at night time during menopause, and they have proven to spike immediately after a hot flash. Both contribute to an increased sense of alertness or anxiety, which often makes sleep challenging.
Find a Futon Mattress to Sleep Better
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Models such as the MAXYOYO Japanese futon mattress have replaced the previous versions of futons which were relatively thin, adding to their discomfort. Today's futons have exceptional features that add to their comfort. Most of them feature reinforced support to protect against premature edge breakdown. And since the mattress is well-built, you can expect it to serve you for years before it needs replacement.