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What is the Connection Between Cortisol and Sleep?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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There are various connections between cortisol and sleep. Some studies have shown that cortisol levels are highest in the early morning and they drop significantly throughout the day, reaching their lowest levels at around 10 p.m.. This shows that the body is most ready for restful sleep at around this time. There is also the correlation between cortisol and sleep deprivation. When one misses out on a good night’s sleep, stress and cortisol levels go up, leading to even more trouble sleeping.

Studies have indicated that sleeping during the hours when cortisol levels are lowest provides the most restful sleep for full rejuvenation. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, so it is also linked to the sleep cycle in two other ways. Lack of sleep can lead to higher stress levels and thus, higher cortisol levels. The opposite is also true. High stress levels can lead to trouble sleeping, which in turn raises stress levels even further.

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Various factors can help combat the destructive cycle production of cortisol and sleep deprivation can bring. It is a good idea to try and get to sleep while cortisol levels are low. This will lead to a more restful sleep and will help reduce brain fog and stress throughout the day. One may also engage in activities that alleviate stress and help the body get ready for sleep in the evening. Exercise, for instance, releases “feel good” endorphins into the bloodstream, leading to relaxation. The extra exertion may also allow the body to feel tired enough to get to bed on time.

If sleep deprivation is the cause for stress to begin with, there are various potential causes. Certain medical conditions, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and high caffeine consumption can all lead to insomnia. Certain medications may also be to blame. In these cases, taking a prescription mediation to treat any underlying causes may help. Sleeping pills are a temporary solution only and should not be used routinely.

Sometimes high levels of cortisol and sleep disruption is inevitable, but there are things that can be done so that it doesn’t become a pattern. If sleep was disturbed, meaning it was either hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, it may help if activities are kept to a minimum the following day. Although this is not always possible, taking things as easy as possible will reduce additional stress. It may be tempting to take a nap, but it should be no longer than half an hour or sleep may be disrupted.

Exercise should be performed more than two hours before bed. Sometimes a relaxing routine may also help, such as taking a hot bath or sipping warm milk or chamomile tea. The temperature should be kept cool but not cold, and rooms should be as dark as possible. If sleep still won't come, deep breathing and meditation can sometimes help. If not, one should get up from the bed and read or watch television in another room until tired enough to sleep.

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