High Cortisol May be Causing Your Insomnia

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Most people have no trouble falling asleep and obtaining enough sleep. But for 35 percent of the population, sleep eludes them. Night after night they deal with insomnia, and while there is no one cause for insomnia, the adrenal hormone cortisol may be a factor for some.

You may be familiar with cortisol. It has been labeled by many in the weight loss industry as "the belly fat hormone," that is triggered by stress. It is true that cortisol is triggered by stress. Cortisol typically stimulates the nervous system during times of stress or fear, which gives you the ‘butterfly’ or ‘fight or flight’ feeling.

So, what does this have to do with insomnia? Perhaps a lot; cortisol acting on the nervous system may be the very reason you cannot fall asleep or stay asleep. For one thing, cortisol wakes and arouses the body and mind. Cortisol levels rise dramatically after waking and are regulated throughout the day. For the insomniac, cortisol levels may remain high.** This may be due to today’s hectic lifestyle and/or living in a consistent state of stress, or a health-related issue. Whichever the cause, elevated cortisol means the insomniac may stay in a state of arousal 24 hours a day. This can result in trouble falling asleep, as well as interrupted sleep.

There is no guaranteed cure for insomnia, so what may work for one individual may not work for another. However, if you feel that cortisol may be the culprit behind your sleepless nights, here's what you can to naturally lower your cortisol levels:

  • You can start by eating foods that are sleep-friendly prior to bed. Counteract the effects of cortisol by eating foods that contain sleep inducing properties such as tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin. Go for foods containing whole grains, dairy, poultry, and sunflower seeds.

  • Another way to naturally lower your cortisol levels is to rid your life of as much stress as possible. Do whatever it takes to become emotionally happier and calm. This may mean taking a hard look at your life and removing individuals or situations that cause you stress. It may mean taking up meditation, going into therapy, changing careers, or seeking a spiritual outlet for comfort and peace.

  • If you would like to know for certain if your cortisol levels are high and contributing to your insomnia, talk to your practitioner about the Adrenal Stress Index (ADI) test. This test measures adrenal hormones via saliva at various times of the day, versus a one time blood test that is generally performed during the day. The test is already being administered to people whose doctor’s suspect they may be dealing with chronic fatigue. If your levels come back high, your physician can help uncover what is causing you stress whether it be psychological, physical, environmental or nutritional stressors.

If you suspect that your insomnia may be cortisol related, get proactive about it. Start trying to lower your levels naturally. If sleep still eludes you, seek out the help of a practitioner.

My free online two week sleep training course may also help you identify and eliminate the lifestyle issues that are harming your sleep. Over 2,500 insomniacs have taken the course and 98 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.