by Drew Miller, Sleep Specialist and Director of Marketing Sit ‘n Sleep
Stress can negatively impact many different aspects of your life. One of the most important aspects stress affects is your quality of sleep. However, this stress isn’t just a mental state. There is a scientific reason your sleep is affected, and it starts with your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your main stress hormone that can play a big role in your sleep cycle. Let’s take a look at why and how your cortisol and sleep patterns are interlinked.
Your Sleep-Wake Cycle
Your sleep-wake cycle is the pattern of time you spend asleep and awake every 24 hours. This internal 24-hour clock is one of your body’s circadian rhythms and is synchronized with night and day. Thanks to your sleep-wake cycle, your body knows when it’s time to sleep and time to wake up. Typically, humans’ 24-hour clocks are divided up by eight hours of sleep and 16 hours of wakefulness.
Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. It plays a role in controlling your mood, fear and motivation. It also serves as your body’s internal alarm system, helping you know when it’s time to wake up. Your cortisol levels follow a 24-hour circadian rhythm. Levels start to rise about 2-3 hours after you fall asleep. They’re highest in the morning, giving us the motivation to get out of bed. As the day goes on, your cortisol levels gradually drop, allowing us to wind down for bedtime. However, sometimes our cortisol levels get out of whack.
Cortisol Level Issues
When your cortisol levels are off, your sleep cycle can follow suit. If your levels are either too high or too low, you may have adverse effects.
High evening cortisol levels can result in trouble sleeping, rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, mood swings, and more. You may find that it takes hours to fall asleep, or that you’re irritable, worried or argumentative in the evening. Too much cortisol over a long period of time can lead to a disorder called Cushing’s syndrome.
In addition to high evening cortisol levels, symptoms of low cortisol at night can also negatively impact your life. Symptoms of low cortisol at night can include dizziness, weight loss, muscle weakness, mood swings, and fatigue. Too little cortisol over a period of time can lead to a rare, but possibly life-threatening disorder called Addison’s disease.
As for those dealing with sleep issues like sleep apnea, cortisol levels can also be impacted. Sleep apnea cortisol levels seem to spike due to increased production of the hormone.
How To Lower Stress Hormones
Fortunately, there are natural ways you can lower your cortisol levels to live a healthier life. Try these steps out to see if you can help manage your stress and start getting better sleep.
Establish A Bedtime Routine
Many people seem to passively approach their bedtime routine. However, there are many things you can do to proactively try and get better sleep. For starters, establish a consistent bedtime routine that lets your brain know it’s time for sleep. Activities like showering, reading, or knitting can help you wind down and get ready for bed. Furthermore, you should try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Invest In The Right Mattress
Mattresses are not a commodity nor are they one-size-fits-all. One simple solution to your restless nights may be getting the right mattress. In fact, the best mattress for restless sleepers is the one that matches their sleep position. Back sleepers should get a mattress that’s medium-firm. Side sleepers will want a mattress that’s medium-soft. Lastly, stomach sleeps should look at mattresses that are firm. The right mattress will ensure your neck, spine and hips are properly aligned and supported.
Exercising can help keep your cortisol levels in check. Studies show that regular exercise can help improve your quality of sleep, decrease your stress levels, and improve your overall health. As a result, your cortisol levels will decline over time. However, some people have trouble sleeping if they work out too late in the day. So be sure to find a time that works for you and allows you to get the restful sleep you need.
Get A Pet
As if we needed more reasons to have a pet. One study actually showed that pet-owners experience a greater drop in cortisol compared to non-pet owners. Another study revealed that children who interacted with a therapy dog during a minor medical procedure experienced a drop in distress and cortisol. Even if you don’t own a pet, interacting with someone else’s pet can help lead to reduced stress and lower levels of cortisol.
Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other breathing exercises are great ways to relax your mind and relieve your stress. In fact, research shows that participants who incorporated deep breathing into their routine experience decreased cortisol levels. Even if you’re short on time, a five-minute mindfulness exercise may be enough to lower your stress levels.
Watch Your Diet
Certain foods can help, or hurt, your cortisol levels. It’s important to understand what foods influence your levels, so you can make better informed decisions. In general, eating foods high in sugar regularly can increase your cortisol levels. However, there are plenty foods that are helpful for managing cortisol. Whole grains, legumes, lentils, whole fruits and veggies, green tea, and dark chocolate can all help improve your health and manage your stress. Lastly, don’t forget to drink plenty of water as dehydration has been linked to temporary increases in cortisol.
Reduce Your Stress. Improve Your Sleep.
It’s impossible to avoid all the stresses in life. The key is to learn how to cope with your stress in a healthy manner and taking steps to minimize unnecessary and avoidable stressors. Understanding the link between cortisol and sleep patterns is an important step in making sure you take the necessary steps in improving your quality of life. Try these tips for lowering your cortisol levels and you may be on your way to getting the deep, relaxing and restful sleep you’ve always dreamed about.
Author Bio: Drew Miller is the VP of Marketing for Sit ‘n Sleep, one of the largest mattress retailers in Southern California. Drew works closely with ad agency partners and oversees the marketing strategy for Sit ‘n Sleep. The son of CEO/Owner Larry Miller, Drew marks the third generation of Millers to dedicate their lives to helping people sleep better. He started as a Sleep Consultant at Sit ’n Sleep West Hollywood, where he learned about customer needs’ when it comes to sleep. He was eventually promoted to assistant manager, then store manager of Sit ‘n Sleep Santa Monica, where he learned the ins and outs of managing employee customer relations and the value of thoughtful company culture.