I’m one week into my personal 30 day “Just Sleep” Challenge. I committed to going to bed early and getting more sleep for the month of April. My goal has been to go to sleep by 10pm. I accomplished that most of the week. I stayed up a bit later over the weekend and am definitely feeling it today.
What I am noticing about my sleep pattern is that my body is accustomed to about 6 to 7 hours of sleep and wakes up after that amount of time, no matter what time I go to bed. So, annoyingly enough, I have been waking up WAY TOO EARLY this week. I’m talking 4:30-5 am. And I haven’t been able to get back to sleep. I am realizing that I have to try to “relearn” to sleep for longer periods of time. In order to “catch” up after not sleeping enough for so long, I have to get more sleep than just the recommended 7-9 hours a night. My guess is that it is a hormonal thing for me. Too much cortisol and too little melatonin.
My plan for the week:
In order to “relearn” to sleep longer, I’ve decided to concentrate on reducing my cortisol levels.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that is secreted by the 2 small glands that are located on top of our kidneys in response to stress. The purpose of this hormone is assist us in “fight or flight” situations to give our bodies enough energy to survive dangerous situations. A spike in cortisol triggers the release of amino acids from the muscles, glucose from the liver, and fatty acids into the blood stream so the body can access a tremendous amount of energy. It is secreted naturally in the body throughout the day, peaking at around 8 am to help us to get going in the morning and dropping off at night between 8 and 10 pm to help us get to sleep.
Unfortunately, our modern lives are full of stressful situations like work related stress, relationship worries, dehydration, poor diets, over-exercising, and lack of adequate sleep that this natural rhythm is disrupted and we are walking around with high levels of cortisol all day (and night) long. High cortisol levels have been linked to sleep disturbances, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, elevated cholesterol, elevated blood sugar level, heart disease, decreased sex hormones, early aging, mood swings, depression, weight gain, impaired immune system, and weight gain.
Tips to reduce cortisol levels
- Avoid stimulants ~ stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks shift your body into “fight of flight” mode. One 12 oz cup of coffee (200 mg of caffeine) increases blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour. Cortisol can remain elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood. If you MUST have your caffeine, make sure that you have it only in the early part of the day (before noon.)
- Keep your blood sugar stable ~ avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates in your diet. Excessive carbohydrate intake creates cortisol release in response to constantly elevated insulin levels. Avoid skipping meals, as this will create a cortisol release as well. If you go more than five hours without eating, your cortisol levels increase.
- Go to bed early ~ try to be in bed by 1030 at the latest to be in rhythm with your body’s natural hormonal cycles.
- Exercise regularly but don’t overdo it ~ regular exercise increases brain output of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. However, keep workouts under an hour because at the 1 hour mark, your testosterone levels begin to decline and cortisol levels rise.
- Practice stress relieving techniques ~ We all are aware of our most stressful times of the day. Find tools to ground yourself and unwind. Deep breathing, restorative yoga, meditation, art, reading, etc can all bring your body back down to a relaxed state. Find what works for you.
- RELAX and enjoy life ~ take time out your busy life to just enjoy being alive. Set time aside to just do nothing. Take a walk in nature. Try restorative yoga instead of your high intensity workout. Take a nap.