Cortisol and your sleep – how are they connected?

Our sleep-wake cycle is an innate daily pattern guided by several factors, including the hormones cortisol and melatonin.

Ideally, the stress hormone cortisol is high of a morning when sleep hormone melatonin is low – and vice-versa – leading to a balanced sleep-wake cycle.

Healthy Cortisol levels will follow a diurnal pattern, represented by a natural rise in the early hours of the morning which steadily continues after waking. Cortisol then reaches a peak and is followed by a steady decline into the afternoon and evening to signal your sleep cycle to begin.

A normal evening curve shows melatonin rising during the night to peak during the early hours of the morning – usually between 2am to 3am.

Consistent poor sleep onset & sleep maintenance, frequent waking and irritability and a feeling of “tired but wired” in the evening could be a sign of low melatonin and higher than normal cortisol levels.

optimal cortisol function graph

How can we balance the cortisol-melatonin scales to ensure better sleep and sustained energy?

  •  Balance stress across the day
  •  Reduce caffeine consumption, particularly of an afternoon
  •  Include morning natural light exposure to support an improved cortisol rise
  • Consume a well-balanced whole foods diet across the day – reducing blood sugar imbalances from constant snacking/under-eating or unintentional fasting also reduces cortisol spikes
  • Focus on your ‘sleep hygiene’ – reducing blue-light exposure in the evening, ensuring complete darkness in the bedroom when sleeping and reviewing your mattress and pillow quality are all great places to start
  • Try tart cherry juice in the evening – research has shown positive correlations with enhancing melatonin production and reducing insomnia onset

For more from Danielle, you can reach our to her on [email protected].

To discuss your mind-body connection, wellness or health concerns further, you can book a consult with Danielle here.


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