I’m stressed so I have terrible sleep. Or I have terrible sleep so I’m stressed.
Which statement is right for you? Or maybe it’s both? What impacts the quality of our sleep?
The hormone cortisol came up in my research, again. Cortisol is vital in helping our bodies regulate our sleep and wake cycles. Cortisol follows a 24-hour daily cycle.
It is highest in the morning to wake us up and be alert. It peaks at about two to three hours after we wake up. Mornings are the most productive time for a lot of people. We can thank cortisol for that.
As the day continues your cortisol level gradually declines. It declines further in the evening so that we can relax and fall asleep.
But chronic or high stress keeps our cortisol levels high. The gradual decline in the evening doesn’t occur and we are more alert which makes it difficult to fall asleep.
We can all relate to having a crazy stressful day and even though we were exhausted we couldn’t relax and fall asleep. We can thank cortisol for that too!
We can also get a cortisol spike from doing an intense workout in the evening. That has happened to me. I had a busy day but still wanted to do my interval training or HIIT workout. I did the workout after dinner. I felt great and I got tons of housework done that evening. But I paid the price because it took a really long time for me to fall asleep that night.
We know cortisol levels affect our sleep as a regulator for when we fall asleep and when we wake.
We also know that if cortisol levels are too high it will be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
What can we do to combat high stress/cortisol and get a good night’s sleep?
1. Set a bedtime. Yup, just like when you were a kid. Set a time that you will be in bed and ready for sleep. I think the kid in us rebels a little as it really takes some discipline to set a bedtime and stick to it.
2. It’s best to choose low-intensity workouts, like walking and stretching, in the evening so cortisol levels don’t spike.
3. Practice good sleep routines. We need these routines as much as kids do. Put your pajamas on, wash your face, brush your teeth, read, say your prayers and get into bed. It’s still a good routine. It really helps our body and brain transition and wind down.
4. Limit time on your phone or computer before bedtime. You may think it’s relaxing to scroll through your social media news feed but it doesn’t help you get sleepy. The blue light from your screen “messes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep because it blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes you sleepy. You’re less drowsy than usual at night, and it takes longer to fall asleep.”
5. Make a to-do list before bed. Write down the things you need to do tomorrow or anything else you think you need to remember. That signals your brain that it doesn’t need to continue to remind you of those tasks.
6. Keep a journal. Before bed is a great time to reflect on the good things from your day. It’s also a great time to write down those worries and get them out of your head.
7. Spend time with family members. Talk about the day, laugh together and maybe snuggle before bedtime.
8. Pray. Remember God; your heavenly Father loves you. He cares about all the details of your day. He wants to help with those problems and all those worries whirling around in your brain. Leave all those problems in His very capable hands.
Sleep is vital to lowering stress. Let’s make it a priority.
Today’s little step to health: Pick one new habit to add to your bedtime routine. It’s not an all-or-nothing approach, start with one little change.
I’m going to set my bedtime at 10:15. It will take some discipline but I really do want to lower my stress and my cortisol levels.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Little Steps to Health