Want to Sleep Better? First, Reduce Your Cortisol Levels then Follow These Six Key Tips

Posted December 31, 2006. There have been 17 comments

Trouble sleeping? Your cortisol levels could be too high. Learn how to control them and get a good night's sleep.

Here in America, recent statistics indicate that 1 in 8 people have difficulty falling or remaining asleep. Many adults are turning to drugs such as Ambien that have reported side effects like amnesia, sleep walking and unconscious "sleep-eating" during the night.

Even preschoolers have insomnia. We have learned from the hundreds of parents in our BEDROK group that autistic children also have severe sleep disturbance. Sadly, many parents - out of desperation and not knowing any other alternative - give their little ones melatonin supplements that were once only recommended for much older adults.

This phenomenon is a significant concern to us here at Body Ecology because deep sleep is one of the most fundamental ways our body heals itself. Ideally while you sleep your body should be busy repairing itself, so I'd like to offer you some insight that I feel will help you obtain your much-needed sleep without the negative side effects of drugs or even supplements like melatonin.

To start, it's important to explore why we have difficulty sleeping. Over the years I've learned that the hormone cortisol can play a major role in robbing you of a good night's sleep.

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The Stress or Death Hormones

Cortisol is called the "stress hormone" because it is secreted during times of fear or stress, whenever your body goes into the fight or flight response. Cortisol is made in your adrenals. In the constant state of stress so commonplace today, cortisol creates chronic to severe inflammation that eventually causes premature aging and leads to an earlier death. In fact, cortisol is often called, "the death hormone."

Cortisol suppresses another important, DHEA, the "youth" hormone.

Cortisol causes blood sugar to elevate and this then leads to an acidic blood condition. Acidic blood leads to the modern life-style epidemics we see today like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Some other affects of elevated cortisol are:

  • Lowered immunity
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain, especially in the abdominal region and the waist
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Reduced growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA and estrogen
  • Osteoporosis

Cortisol and Fear

If you're a big fan of TV and newspapers, you are well aware that the media constantly reminds us that we live in an unpredictable and potentially dangerous world. For many of us our thoughts are on overdrive and our minds are constantly filled with negative chatter. Worry and concern cause fear and that fear can consume us.

In Chinese Medicine, it has always been understood that our adrenals, kidney and bladder are the organs connected to the emotion of fear.

When you live a life full of chronic fear, as many of us do, you are weakening your adrenals, your kidneys and your bladder. As they become weaker, you will find yourself becoming even more fearful. It's a vicious cycle that has to be broken.
I'd like to suggest a few ways to help manage fear and bring down those elevated cortisol levels so that you sleep better at night.

Some Tips to Manage Fear and Elevated Cortisol

A few simple lifestyle changes, nutritional nourishment for your adrenals and some special herbs called adaptogens will help you obtain a much deeper level of sleep at night.

Tip One: Make Effort to Grow Emotionally Happier. EFT Can Help

If you are currently having trouble sleeping, consider the Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. It is an excellent technique that can quickly help you eliminate deep-seated stress and fear. Many times these emotions are rooted in early life experiences and must be eliminated from our subconscious mind. EFT is both effective and very easy to do. Founded by Gary Craig, many people are using EFT to clear negative energy and get relief from pain, addictions, diseases and other negative emotions like guilt, sadness and anger.

Tip Two: Make An Effort to Grow Spiritually

In Body Ecology we teach about the principle of uniqueness. I believe this principle must be honored not only in our physical body but in our mental, emotional and spiritual body as well. We must each connect to our own understanding of the Creative Divine Power as we understand it. This understanding will continually grow and evolve. It is important to follow your heart and seek the Truth that works for you.

Spiritual masters have always encouraged us to strive toward connecting our physical self with the more sacred part of us - our soul. As we grow spiritually we learn that everything in life is in perfect divine order. When we truly master this capacity to trust in the Divine Power, we feel safe. We let go and relax. This state of being takes a tremendous burden off out adrenals.

Tip Three: Make Some Simple Changes in the Way You Nurture Yourself

Choose a few of these tried and true ways to reduce stress and lower your cortisol before you go to sleep:

  • Turn off the TV - Especially in the evening. You'll find that you can sleep better at night. Read a book instead.
  • Dim the lights - When your eyes are exposed to lights your pineal gland (a tiny endocrine organ in your brain) will not secrete the melatonin you need for a good night's sleep.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Take a hot bath with Epsom salts before bed.
  • Use essential oils, like lavender.
  • Ask someone to give you a foot massage (aka foot reflexology) - when cortisol levels are up, you can be certain that too much energy has gone up into your head. A foot massage is a great way to calm down that excessive nervous energy in your head. (Parents in our BEDROK (Body Ecology Recovering Our Kids) group are encouraged to give their children a foot massage every night right after a hot bath and climbing into bed.)
  • Make a list of all the things you are grateful for - I've heard that Oprah Winfrey does this every night.

Tip Four: Make Changes in Your Diet

Try these Body Ecology Foods to lower your cortisol and sleep better:

Tip Five: Add Some Special Supplements Called Adaptogens

We sleep better at night when we build energy during the day. Adaptogens are safe yet effective choices for building energy and fortunately they are abundantly grown in the earth's garden.
Russian researcher Professor Israel Brekman established the definition of Adaptogens. They are harmless plants with no side effects. They increase the general capacity of the human body to adapt to stress and they increase resistance to disease. They are not localized to a specific body organ but have a "normalizing" effect (restorative rather than curative) on the imbalances caused by physical or emotional stress. Examples of physical and emotional stress would include depression, anxiety, noise and occupational tension, biological stress from infection, chemical stress from alcohol, salt and environmental toxins and even changes in external conditions such as high altitude, extreme climate or irregular day rhythms.

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Here are some great options:

  • Holy Basil - the most revered of all the Ayruvedic herbs Holy Basil is not related to the basil we grow in our gardens. Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil has been used to lower elevated cortisol and regulate blood sugar.
  • Ashwagandha - the herb that has been shown to increase energy and mental alertness during the day has also been shown in research to help you sleep better at night.
  • Shatavari - means a woman with a thousand husbands. This should give you an idea of how effective it is for building energy,
  • Dong Quai is also called Angelica sinsensis and is said to be the "queen" of herbs for balancing a women hormones. Interestingly, it is also used by men to improve the health of their prostate gland. It creates energy and yet is calming.
  • Other wonderful examples of adaptogens are Schizandra, Gynostemma, Astragalus and Rhodiola.

Tip Six: Be Sure You Retain Lots of Minerals

Minerals feed your adrenals so that you can build energy. In order to get the benefits of minerals in your body, you have to digest them from the mineral-rich foods you eat. A healthy inner ecosystem, full of healthy microflora, plays a critical role in assimilating and retaining minerals. For more on how to get minerals into your diet, read: The Health Benefits of Specific Minerals & How to Easily Boost Your Mineral Intake Today .

With some simple lifestyle changes, the right nutritional nourishment for your adrenals andspecial herbs called adaptogens you can soon obtain a much deeper level of sleep at night.

Remember that changing old habits takes time. And unless you are seriously ill, I am a firm believer in making dietary changes step-by-step. Go at your own pace to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Body Ecology has many wonderful tools for healing. Pick them up as quickly as you can and if you drop one, pick it up again as soon as possible. Always keep moving forward. While small steps might seem like the slow approach to reach your goal, before you know it you'll be waking up feeling as rested as a healthy baby who just slept soundly through the night!

Post Categories: Sleep Disorders

17 Comments

  • As far as I know (and as Wikipedia says) cortisol works as an ANTI-INFLAMMATORY agent, which is exactly opposite to "creating chronic to severe inflammation", what this article claims.
    Lack of basic undestanding minimizes real value of articles like this one.

    Posted on Sep 24 at 8:30 pm

  • There is a new very effective technique which re-balances the brain hemispheres and pituitary gland and returns cortisol levels to normal by shifting the body out of fight or flight. its the one minute technique that melts your stress away. The Cranial Release Technique. elevated cortisol levels have been associated with a 5 fold increase in death from heart attack and stroke according to a 6 year study, as reported by WebMD

    Posted on Nov 20 at 7:16 pm

  • Donna,
    I had horrible nightmares and suffered them for at least 10 years....they were so bad and violent that I was always waking up terrified, heart rushing and heavy breathing. It was terrible. I finally went to an acupuncturist who gave me herbs for my kidneys and I have not had nightmares for three weeks. [Chinese medicine treats kidneys when you have bad nightmares]. I am amazed that I suffered through them for so long but I really didn't want to take anti depressants or anti anxiety drugs for bad dreams and now I don't have to. Acupuncture might be an option for you.....

    Posted on Sep 26 at 3:57 pm

  • Updated - thanks!

    Posted on Jun 3 at 1:30 am

  • Wow, it's 7 years since this article was posted, and still it has an error in step 5: men have a PROSTATE gland, not prostrate.

    Posted on May 30 at 6:16 pm

  • Interesting stress has been linked to MS and I think
    MOLD helps to destroy nerves and Roundup may promote fungal growth. MS is higher in cool damp places like Scotland. Here PEI Can. the air has gotten to very damp and moldy. People are getting severe intestinal problems too [GMO] industrial farming
    and we drink groundwater for this area???

    Posted on Apr 15 at 1:05 pm

  • Donna, I was on phen as well, and felt obvious tired and lethargic without it...after a couple years of weight gain, and at this point not even phen could control it, I found it was my thyroid. Please do not neglect checking thyroid anti bodies as this is a special test you have to request. It doesn't stop at TSH! The thyroid hormone is responsible for many functions in the mind and body, especially cognitive functions. Thyroid can effect mood and energy as well. Which phen users can overlook those things after supplement isn't working to it's full potential.

    Posted on Apr 4 at 8:10 pm

  • Bobbi....please look up the drug phentermine....it is a controlled substance but it is more of an amphetamine, not a narcotic.

    Posted on Mar 21 at 8:31 pm

  • donna - phentermine is a controlled narcotic so whomever is writing the prescription is committing malpractice OR you are illegally purchasing it from overseas. as a former nurse you know this already. you also know you are addicted to the phentermine and that taking it at 4pm is not going to help you lose weight, only keep you awake and mess up your hormones like crazy. You need to find a real licensed naturopathic physician - check the background and what school they attended and then you need to do exactly as the doctor prescribes and NOT self treat unless the doctor gives you directions to do so. If your husband is emotionally abusive then either get counseling together or start documenting it and prepare end it. The only way to know if your cortisol is way too high at night is if you did a sleep study and your blood was drawn each night. Sometimes our education gets in the way of our learning and for 15 years you have used a little bit of knowledge as a nurse to really do yourself damage. Please stop and find a physician you can trust - be honest about everything, the drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc etc, the relationship, diet. If you are honest with a well trained and licensed naturopathic physician and enter into a partnership with him/her to heal yourself, you will get better. It will take time. You can;t change 15 yrs overnight. No silver bullets. Might take 18 months or more so get your financial life and health insurance account in order and get busy. Take care.

    Posted on Feb 16 at 10:12 am

  • @ Donna; Sounds awful, why dont u get yr get your free T4 and free T3 checked, its all linked/ endocrine stuff!

    Posted on Nov 22 at 3:07 pm

  • PS Donna.. Before bedtime have protein/carb snack. Yes , it's ok to snack at bedtime. Our bloodsugar goes down at nite so we wake hungry. Also keep a glass of water beside the bed and if u wake hungry get a good drink. Your body mind and soul will thank you!

    God bless you with peaceful slumber!

    Posted on Nov 13 at 10:46 am

  • Donna Durham, phentermine is a stimulant so naturally you will not be able to sleep. Take it in the morning as early as possible or even quit it. Avoid caffeine after mid afternoon. Take a walk after dinner. Eat a lean protein, big plate of low carb steamed veggies or a good home made soup. Listen to a relaxing music. Turn off the phone at 8pm and have some "you" time. Take a warm bath. Making sure your bed is nice and clean, your bedroom must be dark, cool and quiet even if you must use a fan or white noise. If you will drink some nice warm sleepy time chamomile tea and get iinto a bedtime ritual. Rub lotion on your feet and hands. Wash off all makeup and put on night cream. Do not watch TV in bed. Read a relaxing chapter, Pray and turn off the lights at the same time each night.

    Do not think about your troubles or allow any bad thoughts to interfere with your rest. Use a pillow between your knees if you aer a side sleeper and an arm pillow to hug. Do some deep breathing relaxation meditations on a beautiful place if you do have anxiety in the daytime or anytime.

    Being a nurse you probably absorb others troubles with your empathetic nature or you may get frustrated with people after you advise them best you can. Let them go at bedtime. God can handle them. You need your rest. Your body heals while in deep sleep. Our brain cannot go to the state of relaxation it needs with a medication like phentermine in your blood......

    God bless you with peaceful slumber!

    Posted on Nov 13 at 10:43 am

  • Really great information.

    Gynostemma tea is another great herb for many stress related conditions and Insomnia. I am drinking three cups of this a day and it has helped me heaps with chronic insomnia which I have experienced in the past five years.

    Posted on Sep 28 at 1:28 am

  • Hey Donna if you are still here you could try relora to reduce your cortisol levels at night. I've heard this is very good to assist with sleep for people with high cortisol.

    Posted on Jul 1 at 1:13 am

  • Do you understand why some people can't hold on to electrolytes and other can't get rid of them?
    My husband and some grown children have low BP and can't hold on to fluids (diuresis), while I have to constantly drink lots of fluid or I get high BP (probably ADH). It is easy for me......just drink enough H2O, but they just don't seem to be able to get and hold on to the minerals. Any suggestions?

    Posted on Jun 17 at 8:13 am

  • Hi Donna,
    I have other health issues but recently discovered I am on way too high a dosage of iodine prescribed by a registered Doctor at a Holistic practice in NZ. This Drs practice omitted to advise me to reduce my heavy dosage of iodine which supplements thyroid meds (after 1 month) so I have been on the wrong dosage for 2 years. The result is extreme high cortisol (a urine cortisol test can identify the level in your body). I am a work in progress as I have only just been advised by another Doctor to make a drastic reduction and I hope this will have a good effect. I just want to say I understand your problem and feel for you because I have the same identical sleep problem described by yourself. It is excruciating. It has caused and exacerbated other health issues including knee pain and early aging. My advice is to get a test and perhaps get any other meds you are on investigated. Certainly you have identified one stressor in your life which cannot be helping your stress levels. Good luck - but I think you need specialist help to get a test and advice on how to proceed, depending on the results, you might have a hormone imbalance?
    Kind regards

    Ann

    Posted on Jun 17 at 12:16 am

  • my cortisol level is way to high at nite what could be the reasons? i take phentermine at 4 pm in the evening, so i don t over eat at nite, but it does' nt work. i have been doing this for 15 yrs. if i stop i have no erergy, no drive, etc. im an x nurse i know this is not the way to stop eating at nite, not that i eat that much at nite it has just become a habit, my cortisol is way to high at nite, sleep comes suddenly, then in about 4 or 5 hrs. i awaken suddenly, as if i had never been asleep, hard to get back to sleep, very bad dreams, i don t think it can be all about taking fasting at nite, but maby it can be, i need help from someone, who really understands, my health is good, the man im married to has been phy. emotional, very bad. i hope someone out there will understand and respond, most of all the cortisol level is to high. thank you donna

    Posted on May 26 at 10:28 pm

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