Written by Julie Germaine
Poor cortisol (the stress hormone) gets a bad rap, but the truth is that it is an essential hormone that affects each organ and tissue in the human body. While it can be problematic and lead to increased belly fat when unbalanced, we WANT and need cortisol in healthy quantities, for some of the following reasons:
- Helping to control sleep-wake cycle
- Regulating blood pressure and blood sugar
- Suppressing inflammation
- Aiding in controlling your body’s use of macronutrients (aka metabolism)
- And finally, regulating your body’s stress response.
The question is, how can you make sure that cortisol is released at the correct time during the day, and what can be done to manage chronic elevated cortisol levels? Read on, my friend.
The first thing we want to pay attention to is our sleep behaviours. Here are some evening routines to try:
- Your body can be affected by blue light emitted from your devices, so turn on night shift if it’s after dark. This alters your screen to display warmers colours, filtering out blue light.
- Go to sleep by 10p most nights, and avoid evening snacks at least 3 hours before bedtime. This helps with melatonin & HGH production, which helps us get better quality rest.
- Black out your bedroom completely. This can be achieved by removing night lights, putting up thick window coverings to block street lights, and ensuring electronics with power indicators are facing walls or moved to an entirely different area of your home.
Next, consider how we start each morning. Here are some things to try to kick off your day right:
- If you live in the country, try leaving your blinds open so the sun wakes you up.
- Spend up to ten minutes in direct sunlight as soon as possible every day. If it’s cold out, this can be accomplished in a window. Avoid wearing sunglasses during this time. This cues your system to release cortisol at an optimum time.
- Try a cold morning shower, by cranking the tap to icy for the final few minutes of your usual cleanse. Bonus: this is excellent for hair and skin!
- Keep up your morning coffee habit – this helps cue the cortisol release.
- Give intermittent fasting a go, ideally for 12-16 hours overnight. It’s true that you are likely to be a bit grumpy at the end of this stretch, but that will be during your wake-up routine, again allowing the body to release cortisol at an appropriate time for health benefits.
Your diet and activity level are important as well, when it comes to maintaining healthy hormone levels. Avoid sodium-rich foods, processed items (especially those high in sugars), and reduce alcohol to avoid developing chronically elevated cortisol levels. You can try increasing your vitamin C intake to fix an existing condition, and exercising regularly with both stress training and cardiovascular activity will have a noticeable effect on your overall stress, and help regulate cortisol in your body.