The Cortisol Code

Hayley Dawes
13 May 2024

Ever noticed how some mornings you wake up feeling instantly alert, ready to conquer the day, while other days, even with a full night's sleep, you struggle to shake off that grogginess? This is all down to your body's natural wake-up call - cortisol. As the sun rises, so does your cortisol level, peaking in the early hours to kickstart your metabolism, sharpen your focus, and boost your energy. This morning surge of cortisol sets the stage for a productive day ahead.

Dr. Matthew Walker and Dr. Andrew Huberman both recently delved into the intricate workings of cortisol and its impact on our daily lives. https://youtu.be/hvPGfcAgk9Y

 

WHAT IS CORTISOL?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which are small glands located on top of each kidney. It belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which play a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes in the body. Cortisol is often referred to as the body's primary "stress hormone" because it is released in response to stressors, whether they are physical, emotional, or environmental.

 In addition to its role in the stress response, cortisol also plays a role in regulating other bodily functions, including metabolism, inflammation, blood pressure, and sleep-wake cycles.  It follows a diurnal rhythm, with levels typically peaking in the early morning to help us wake up and gradually declining throughout the day and into the evening to promote relaxation and restful sleep.

While cortisol is essential for survival and plays many important roles in the body, chronically elevated levels of cortisol due to ongoing stress or other factors can have negative effects on health, including impaired immune function, weight gain, mood disturbances, and increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Maintaining a healthy balance of cortisol is crucial for overall well-being.

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ONE’S CORTISOL RISES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT OUR SLEEP?

This nocturnal cortisol surge can occur due to various factors, including stress, anxiety, or disturbances in the sleep environment.

When cortisol levels rise in the middle of the night, it can disrupt the normal sleep cycle and negatively impact sleep quality.  This nocturnal cortisol surge can occur due to various factors, including stress, anxiety, or disturbance in the sleep environment.

 Here’s how an increase in cortisol during the night can affect your sleep:

  • Sleep Onset: Elevated cortisol levels can make it difficult to fall asleep initially. 
  • Sleep Maintenance: Even if you manage to fall asleep, spikes in cortisol during the night can lead to fragmented sleep.  Cortisol can disrupt the normal progression of sleep stages, causing awakenings throughout the night.  This can result in lighter, less restorative sleep and contribute to feelings of fatigue and grogginess the next day.
  • REM sleep: Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is a stage of deep, restorative sleep associated with dreaming, may also be affected by elevated cortisol levels. Some research suggests that cortisol can interfere with REM sleep, leading to disturbances in dreaming and impairments in memory consolidation and emotional processing. 
  • Morning Awakening: Cortisol levels typically peak in the early morning hours, helping to promote wakefulness and alertness as part of the body’s natural circadian rhythm.  However, if cortisol levels have been elevated throughout the night, this morning peak may be exaggerated, causing you to wake up feeling unrefreshed and unrested.

 

WHAT ROLE WOULD CBD PLAY IN EASING CORTISOL LEVELS AND PROMOTING SLEEP?

There are numerous studies and plenty of reviews as to how CBD can aid sleep, rest and recovery.  We use the finest broad-spectrum High Grade CBD at Dreem which is paired with our Super Terpene Blend ™.  This unique formulation supports one’s sleep whether it be falling asleep or waking in the night and struggling to fall asleep.  Our Night Drops enhance your calming neurochemical called GABA allowing you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

During my recent stay at SHA Wellness, my mental stress was flagged as ‘high.’ Consulting the experts yielded invaluable advice to tackle this stress head-on. 

  • Pranayama – breathwork
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Shiatsu
  • Mindfulness
  • FREE time
  • Saying ‘no’ when necessary and set healthy boundaries
  • Prioritise one’s needs and find balance in work, rest and recreational activities
  • Relaxing baths - a big one always for us. Our favourite Dreem bath saviours are The Z’s CBD anchoring bath soak for those long, indulgent baths and Into the Deep therapeutic bath oil which is nourishing and calming.