Sleep and cortisol levels are closely related

Both stress and adrenal function affect sleep in many ways, therefore adrenal fatigue, sleep and cortisol secretion are closely linked. In this blog I’d like to clarify and explain how they influence each other.

To start with, a lack of sleep itself is often a significant factor contributing to adrenal fatigue.

Chronic exposure to stress requires the adrenals to produce more cortisol than normal to neutralise stress, and long-term excessive production of cortisol will lead to adrenal fatigue.

Cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, normally rises and falls throughout the 24-hour daily cycle. Typically, the cortisol level is highest in the morning at around 8:00 a.m. and lowest between midnight and 4:00 a.m.

If the night time levels are either too high or too low they can interrupt sleep in many ways.

Adrenal function test

A saliva cortisol test of four samples taken throughout the day and evening will help determine if either high or low cortisol may be interfering with your sleep. If cortisol is a likely cause of sleep problems, its levels will be significantly higher or lower (depending on the stage of adrenal depletion) than normal for those times.

Along with cortisol, the adrenal glands also secrete the hormone adrenaline when you are under stress. Together, adrenaline and cortisol increase your alertness, making it more difficult to relax into sound sleep. This happens especially when the hormone levels remain high or rise and fall irregularly through the night.

Frequent or constant stress can chronically elevate these hormones, resulting in a hyper-vigilant state incompatible with restful sleep. Every time the wake/sleep cycle is altered, it takes several days or weeks for the body and cortisol levels to adjust back to normal.

To remedy this and improve all aspects of sleep, choose daily activities that reduce stress and enhance your ability to better handle stress. These include supportive nutrition, regular relaxation, breathing and/or meditation techniques, exercise and stress-relieving life modifications.

Your daily routines – what and when you eat and drink, how you schedule your days, and how you spend your evenings – can significantly impact your quality of sleep. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night.

Women experience more insomnia than men

Interestingly, according to the National Sleep Foundation, women are two times more likely to have insomnia than men. Experts speculate that the reason may be linked to women’s hormonal system function and imbalances. Sleepless nights and daytime sleepiness have been linked with hormonal changes in a women’s life. These include pregnancy, menopause, and the menstrual cycle.

Sleep problems are a common complaint for women experiencing menopause, when hormone levels are erratic. Menopausal symptoms are related to the adrenal dysfunction as the adrenals take over the role of hormone production from the ovaries.

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