Cortisol and Sleep Problems

I gave this speech a few months ago for Toastmasters, and I finally made some time to publish it on the blog. Most of these thoughts and ideas came from reading Rob Wolff’s book, The Paleo Solution. It is also worth noting that life gets in the way sometimes and following the ideas below aren’t easy. It happens to me to too. This post is meant to help you understand when you have sleep problems, cortisol could be something at play.

I am going to talk about something you’ve done since the day you were born: sleep. Specifically, how to sleep better in addition to how a hormone called cortisol can mess with your sleep. I care about sleep and cortisol from personal experience. I graduated college with a lot of ambition. For this explanation, I define ambition as GO GO GO GO GO! I thought it was fair to work 9-10 hour days, go to the gym for a few hours at night, make dinner after that, and check emails and hang out at night till about 12 am. I went to bed around 12AM, then got up at 6AM to do it all again with 6 hours sleep. A friend on the Internet recommended this book and the one chapter on sleep and cortisol changed how I viewed my day instantly. At the end of this speech, you will know how to sleep better and how cortisol messes with your sleep and be the catalyst for insomnia.

Cortisol is a hormone that affects energy storage. It has many other functions but for this example, we will focus on energy. Cortisol gives us energy. Specially, cortisol causes the release of glucose and fatty acids from the liver, which results in energy.

When exposed to stress your body releases cortisol more frequently than it should. There are many experiences and life obstacles that expose you to stress and release cortisol. Below are a few quick ones:

  • Your job
  • Money
  • Lack of sleep
  • Checking social media
  • Physical activity

The right dose of these stressful activities will release the right amount of cortisol, which produces productive energy levels. However, too much of these or too much of these at the wrong times will spike your energy levels when you do not want them to. For example, right before bedtime. The charts below explain the ideal cortisol releasing pattern and the not so ideal pattern.

cortisol and sleep problems

Stresses That Can Impact Cortisol

cortisol and insomniaCertain activities you partake in before bed can spike cortisol which spikes energy which prevents you from falling a sleep right away.

I wanted to conclude with a few quick hacks to keep cortisol low at night and get the deep sleep your body deserves:

  1. Stop looking at your phone at least an hour before bed.
  2. Set an alarm to go to sleep if you have trouble going to bed on time.
  3. Make your room pitch black (remove all lights)
  4. Get a sleep mask.

Cortisol is a hormone that can impact energy levels. Too much cortisol at night and you won’t sleep as well.