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We have all experienced the not-so-fun feelings of stress. Stress from work, school, relationships—not to mention, a global pandemic. All of this is a recipe for us to try to balance our hormones for better sleep.
A small amount of stress is good. It keeps us on our toes, and sometimes it fuels us.
But when we experience chronic stress, our hormones become unbalanced, our blood sugar spikes, and our adrenals fatigue. As a result, we may feel exhausted and burnt out.
What is responsible for these ups and downs? It’s a hormone called cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is our internal alarm system; our body’s main stress hormone. When threatened or startled, the adrenal glands pump out cortisol. Our bodies were designed to use this hormone as a crisis response mechanism, jolting us into action if, say, a tiger was chasing us.
Cortisol puts glucose in our muscles to help us run faster, and raises our blood pressure to pump oxygen to our brain to help us think clearly.
In 2022, we aren’t necessarily running from tigers, but we do experience tons of stressors that raise our cortisol levels.
6 signs your cortisol is too high
- You’re wired but tired. You are tired all day, and then have a burst of energy in the evenings and can’t fall asleep.
- You wake up in the middle of the night at 3am and can’t get back to sleep.
- Getting out of bed in the mornings is impossible; you snooze your alarm repeatedly
- Despite your best efforts to eat healthy and get daily movement in, you’re experiencing weight gain, especially in your midsection.
- Feeling anxious, nervous, and jittery is the new norm; brain fog is real.
- Your hormones are out of whack; maybe you’re experiencing irregular periods.
Stress and sleep cycles
Our bodies naturally produce cortisol at certain times of the day. Ideally, we want to balance cortisol so that we spring out of bed in the morning, and fall asleep at night.
Cortisol and our circadian rhythm are deeply connected. Circadian rhythms operate on a twenty-four-hour cycle and are our body’s natural clock. Cortisol should be highest in the morning, naturally spiking between 6am and 8am to help us get up in the morning. Cortisol should be at its lowest around midnight, so our bodies can perform its best repair and healing.
Staying up late scrolling on TikTok has inverted our natural circadian rhythm and cortisol levels.
Sleep better, stress less!
If you’re experiencing any of the signs listed above, these tips may help you balance your cortisol:
- Balance your circadian rhythm! Implement a bedtime routine to balance your body clock. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, read before bed, or take a hot Epsom salt bath. Stay consistent! Aim to be asleep before 11pm.
- Switch up your exercise regimen. HIIT or cardio raises your cortisol levels. If you’re someone who enjoys these types of workouts, keep it up! But If you’re someone who dreads heart-pumping workouts, ditch them. Switch to restorative workouts such as Pilates, yoga or walking.
- Daily breathwork and meditation. Breathwork and/or meditation are effective practices for balancing cortisol levels. They can alter the body’s response from fight-or-flight mode to the preferred mode of rest-and-digest. Here your digestion is smooth, immune system is prime, and nervous system is calm. Box breathing is my favorite type of breathwork. The next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed, try it: Start by exhaling to a count of four, holding your lungs empty for a count of four, and inhaling for a count of four. It is helpful to visualize breathing to the four sides of a square.
- Eat protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. Consume meals with proteins, fats, and eat complex carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels which may lead to a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys of blood sugar levels. This can contribute to food cravings and hunger cues throughout the day. Consuming proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. It may also help control sugar cravings.
Give these tips a try to lower your stress levels and improve your sleep.
Disclaimer: this content is for educational purposes only. Always consult with a healthcare practitioner if you have concerns about your hormone balance.