top of page

"11 Ways to Naturally Regulate Your Cortisol Levels for Increased Energy and Vitality"

This week’s newsletter focuses on the chemical messenger (hormone) cortisol, in particular what happens when levels are disrupted due to excess or prolonged stress.

Cortisol gets a bad rap due to its “stress hormone” status and connection to the fight or flight response. However, without the cortisol, you couldn’t get up and do what needed to be done. It helps your brain and body control your energy, motivation and mood. So, learning to maintain healthy cortisol levels might be your superpower for living well in the modern world.

Cortisol is the ‘control system’ for hormones so when it is out of balance it impacts all your hormones and neurotransmitters.

One of cortisol’s chief functions is to regulate your metabolism, to ensure every cell in your body has energy available when needed.  However, just like your car, you can’t keep withdrawing from your energy (cortisol/glucose) bank account without putting more funds in with sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits. Gradually, you will go overdrawn and eventually bankrupt! 

What does cortisol do in the body and brain?

Regulates metabolism - Cortisol increases glucose production to give cells readily available energy. It also mobilises amino acids from muscle, breaks down fat, and moderates’ insulin secretion

Manages immune response - Cortisol helps control inflammation levels and the activity of different immune cells.

Influences cardiovascular function - Cortisol varies blood pressure and heart rate as needed for responding to challenges and increase demands through the sympathetic nervous system

Impacts bone health - Cortisol regulates bone turnover and calcium absorption from the intestines.

Affects mood and motivation - Cortisol boosts alertness, memory, and motivation when needed.

What happens when cortisol levels get disrupted?

Cortisol provides vital metabolic and immune support, but if cortisol levels remain too high or low for prolonged periods of time, it can impact well-being in negative ways. 

Here's a list of possible signs and symptoms

Causes of high cortisol

  • Elevate and/or prolonged stress levels

  • Poor sleep quality and duration

  • Poor diet especially ultra-processed and high sugar foods

  • Insulin resistance

  • Over exercising

  • Higher than normal oestrogen levels

  • Thyroid issues

  • Pregnancy and birth control pills

  • Recent illness, injury, or surgery

  • Inflammation (caused by a myriad of factors)

  • Medication use, steroid based for example hydrocortisone, prednisone

Causes of Low cortisol

  • Addison’s Disease

  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications,

  • Genetic disorders

  • Infections

  • Prolonged exposure to stress can potentially dysregulate the HPA axis, leading at first to higher cortisol levels with decreased cortisol production over time.

What is a normal cortisol rhythm?

In an ideal world, cortisol is highest in the morning, helping us stay focused during the day.  It peaks around 8am and then gradually tapers off through the afternoon and evening.  If your energy starts to run low during typical daily activities this could be a warning sign that your cortisol pattern is disrupted. See signs above

What do disrupted cortisol rhythms look like?

Here are some of the common patterns of disrupted cortisol levels.  They can overlap, but most often they occur in progression from high morning cortisol to low levels throughout the day. After periods of prolonged cortisol production, the adrenal glands can become fatigued and cortisol production is reduced.

High Early-Morning Cortisol Levels

A healthy curve begins with cortisol levels highest in the morning, but not hours before dawn. Cortisol levels are normally lowest around 3 a.m., then begin to rise, peaking around 8 a.m. If you routinely wake up hours before dawn in a state of anxiety, your cortisol is overachieving and spiking too early.

 This could be happening if:

  • You rarely sleep through the night.

  • Your mind is racing the moment you wake up.

  • You’re edgy and confrontational in the mornings.

  • Your energy crashes around midmorning

High Evening Cortisol Levels

If you often find yourself in heated political arguments online at 9 p.m., or if you do heavy training at the gym in the evenings, it’s likely that your cortisol levels are skyrocketing at night — right when you want them to be coming down.

Some common signs of high evening cortisol levels are:

  • Falling asleep is nearly impossible and can take hours.

  • You worry in the evenings or feel especially argumentative.

  • You distract yourself by spending a lot of time online, watching TV, or working out at night — which can lead to self-defeating cycle of even higher evening cortisol.

High Cortisol Levels Throughout the Day

Cortisol spikes in response to stressors like work deadlines, environmental pollution, and inadequate sleep. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can be caused by too much coffee, a lack of carbs throughout the day, or an intensive focus on schedules. If cortisol levels stay elevated, you’re wired but your adrenals are getting tired.

It feels like:

  • You’re constantly behind schedule and racing to catch up.

  • You’re exhausted and hyper at the same time.

  • People comment on how fast you talk.

  • You’re easily irritated and feel little enthusiasm for anything

Low Cortisol Levels Throughout the Day

After cortisol has been elevated for an extended period, it can drop off completely. When it does, you feel flatlined. This usually signals adrenal exhaustion when the overworked glands have shut down. Causes include prolonged and intense stress, sustained periods of inadequate sleep, and a general lack of physical and mental rest.

Some signs of low cortisol are:

  • You’re dragging yourself through each day, even after plenty of sleep.

  • It takes lots of strong coffee or intense exercise to pull you up — but it doesn’t last.

  • You fall asleep everywhere, including work meetings.

Ways to balance cortisol levels

  1. Get enough sleep, aim for 8 hours-This is absolutely essential, if your sleep quality and duration is insufficient cortisol levels will stay elevated, cortisol levels need to lower to allow your cells to repair and heal.

  2. Get at least 20 minutes of early morning sunlight- Early morning sunlight suppresses melatonin a sleep hormone and stimulates cortisol levels to rise

  3. Stay hydrated- We are more likely to become dehydrated under stress as a higher heart and breathing rate leads to fluid loss, add some trace minerals to support hydration

  4. Delay first coffee until 90-120 minutes after waking -Caffeine disrupts morning cortisol levels

  5. Time your exercise-Create a schedule that supports a health cortisol rhythm, exercise stimulates cortisol release

  6. Practice relaxing- learn how to turn down or off your stress response. Try walking, nature, breathing techniques, neuromodulation devices, find a practice that is easy to do and makes you feel calm and connected.

  7. Eat nutritious foods - Ultra processed foods can trigger a stress response directly or indirectly and therefore raise cortisol.

  8. Learn about when to eat carbs- Higher carb meals drop cortisol through elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, insulin decreases cortisol output.  If you feel wired and tired in the evening a meal that includes a heath carb such as a sweet potato or beans can be helpful.

  9. Consider supplementation- Although no single supplement can reset you cortisol pattern, research indicates that the following are beneficial, omega 3 fatty acids (2400mg daily) fatty acids, Vitamin C  (1000mg max per day) and B5

  10. Try adaptogens like ashwagandha, ginseng, rhodiola, eleuthero and others

If you are concerned that your cortisol levels are unbalanced please consult your doctor.

Cortisol is your friend but can without self-care and boundaries it can become your foe. Learning to maintain healthy cortisol levels is your superpower for living well in the modern world. There is so many things you can do to help yourself, please don't wait until your health and performance deteriorates, prevention is better than cure!

Next Steps

If you would like help to optimise your cortisol levels and your body budget so that you can feel and perform, and your best have a look at my brain health program here

If you are a coach who would like to integrate a neurobiological framework into your practice, have a look at my professional development masterclass here

If you are a business leader and what to empower your teams to optimise their performance, have a look the business leaders masterclass here.

If you just fancy and chat to find out more about any of the content I share book a free call with me here

If you found this article helpful and feel it would benefit others, please share with your connections.

7 views0 comments


bottom of page