Sleep is one of those things that we take for granted when it’s good only to feel desperate for it when it’s gone. Did you know that your hormones can strongly affect your sleep cycle? We are living in a crazy world at the moment and sleep issues seem to be popping up all over the place, so we want to help shed some light on why and how you can best address your sleep concerns without resorting to nightly sleeping pills or over-the-counter sleep aids.
Cortisol is our stress response hormone, it’s a hormone that should naturally rise in the morning to help us get out of bed, peak around 9 am and then gradually drop off by bedtime to help us relax and fall asleep.
Right now, we are seeing a lot more people with higher cortisol levels, we need cortisol to help us feel energized, and respond to all the excitement in our day, but not at night time. If our levels are high at night it really makes it hard for you to fall asleep and feel rested the next morning.
How do you know that you have high cortisol at night (without testing)? Take a look at these symptoms and see if they sound like you.
Do you have:
● Feelings of anxiety or low mood
● Mind racing
● Night sweats
● Heart palpitations
● Hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
● Diabetes, blood sugar dysregulation
● Chronic inflammation in your body
● Constantly feel tired in the morning
If you can identify with any of these issues and they have become a regular part of your life, chances are you’re cortisol levels are high.
The good news is that there are steps that you can take to help break the cycle of high cortisol that we will share with you below!
Sleep is an important part of healing and regenerating our bodies. Overnight we rest our muscles allowing us to release the acid toxins in our tissue, we fast for 12 to 16 hours which allows for better elimination and we have mental rest to allow brain recovery.
Can your cortisol be high during the night?
The answer is yes. Perhaps you have some of the high cortisol signs, but you’re also waking in the night between 2-4 am and can’t get back to sleep for a 1-2 hours; this is a sign that your cortisol is spiking at the wrong time, i.e., in the middle of the night instead of in the morning.
It’s high cortisol that is not following the normal circadian rhythm. Luckily, we find that knowing how to properly support cortisol throughout the day will help to adjust the sleep cycle back to a more regular pattern.
Low Cortisol can also cause sleep problems!
As with all hormones, there are problems when your levels are too high and when they are too low. Low cortisol happens when you’ve been chronically stressed for a long period of time and your body is no longer able to produce hormones at the same level.
Sleep Induction Techniques
How do we control our cortisol levels naturally? We start with some basic sleep hygiene—have a bedtime routine and a set bedtime.
Our bodies love routine, so be consistent, many of you may have a sleep timer on your smart watch, this can be a helpful reminder to get yourself heading off to bed.
Have a notepad or journal by your bed to write down important thoughts that may keep you up.
Make sure your bedroom is dark—no bright light, alarm clock lights, street light or devices should be in the room. Did you know that to help regulate a women’s menstrual cycle, you should sleep in total darkness except for the day before, the day of and the day after the full moon? Women’s cycles are closely tied to the moon’s cycles.
Do some deep breathing—this will help calm the parasympathetic nervous system and get you ready to enter sleep mode.
If you live by a busy road or you know that you wake easily from noise, try a sound machine or gentle fan to help keep you asleep.
Incorporate some movement into your day—mild to moderate exercise will help to lower stress, intense exercise can actually increase cortisol levels.
Lastly, before bed be sure to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and heavy meals.
Natural Sleep Support Supplements
If you’ve got all the sleep hygiene down and you’re still not sleeping well, here are some of our favourite ways to manage cortisol and induce a more restful sleep.
Magnesium glycinate can be helpful to regulate cortisol and promote relaxation in the brain and muscles.
We know that melatonin can affect our cortisol levels and our sleep patterns. Melatonin and cortisol have an inverse relationship, as cortisol drops our melatonin rises, and we also know that melatonin can decrease our cortisol levels.
If you feel out of rhythm with your sleep-wake cycle, a nice reset is taking a low dose melatonin at night and vitamin D in the morning. This gives your brain the signal that is time to go to sleep and time to wake up with the sun.
We have two forms of melatonin that we like at the clinic, one that helps with sleep onset and one that helps with staying asleep.
Other nutrients that can be helpful to regulate our cortisol levels are phosphatidyl serine, a phospholipid that helps our brains to function better; L-theanine, an amino acid from tea that helps with inducing more relaxation, beta-sistosterol, a fatty acid that can be found in products like Biotone EFA (for those of you that love this product) or can be found in other brain health supports and cholesterol support products.
If you need some help deciding what you need to work on, be sure to reach out to your Naturopathic Doctor for your specific recommendations. Sleeping well ensures that your day goes more smoothly and helps you to cope with what is happening in our world. Positive thoughts create positive actions. Let’s end the year on a high note and hope that 2021 is a better year for the planet.
Dr. Rebecca Sagan, ND and Dr. Hajnalka Pinter, ND