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Get your best rest ever.

| By Meghan Loneragan | Wellness

Excess Cortisol Cutting Into Your Sleep? These 5 Tips May Take Your Stress Hormone Down a Notch

Get your best rest ever.

Stress – don’t you just wish you could sleep it off? You’re tense, strung-out, and feel stretched so thin you’re ready to snap – sleep is exactly what you need when your mind is overworked.

However, much like attempting to awkwardly fit a queen fitted sheet over a king in front of a new partner on your first night together – trying to zonk out when you’re less-than-zen will always prove to be a futile exercise that only adds to the anxiety. But the culprit for this zombie-fied search for zzz’s? That’s cortisol. And it mastered in ‘Cruelty’ at hormone university.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone, and it affects a lot more of our day-to-day life than we realize. When cortisol levels are high, our quality of sleep is affected. This is because sleep and our stress response are both dependent on the HPA (that’s hypothalamic pituitary adrenal if you’re formally introducing it to your parents) axis. When the HPA axis produces cortisol, it disrupts the sleep cycle. Thankfully, there are ways to naturally lower cortisol levels. You might have even heard these tips before. We mean, “healthy habits, healthy lifestyle”, how hard can it be?

As it turns out, pretty challenging. Especially when you consider the fact that the global attention span has decreased from 2 and a half minutes to 47 seconds. We’re just going to leave that fact there because it says everything we need to say about our collective pace of life.

Below, we share five tips for taking your stress hormones down a notch to get your best sleep ever.

1. Practice breathing & mindfulness techniques

Given that we need it to live, you’d think a lot of us would have mastered breathing by now. Turns out, that’s not the case.

Deep, controlled breathing can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Also called the “rest and digest” system, this network of nerves is actually the one responsible for relaxing your body after a period of high stress or danger. When done properly, breathing can actually trigger this system to kickstart the relaxation process.

This is why mindfulness practices that incorporate deep breathing (like yoga and tai chi) can feel so soothing and rejuvenating. It helps your body realize that you’re in a safe space (AKA increased cortisol’s worst enemy).

2. Get more exercise

Aside from its numerous other health benefits, regular physical activity is scientifically proven to lower cortisol and adrenaline levels. On top of that, exercise also releases endorphins – your body’s natural painkillers and mood boosters.

New gym gear is also a fun little bonus.

3. Practice proper nutrition

If you’ve noticed that exercise and diet often go hand-in-hand, that’s because nothing improves one’s overall health quite like this combo. While exercise releases feel-good hormones, a balanced, nutritious diet can keep stress hormones in check.

According to Medical News Today, certain foods (bananas and garlic, in particular) can keep cortisol levels at a respectable level. Meanwhile, foods that contain antioxidants – like green tea and probiotics (think yoghurt) – can combat oxidative stress.

Aside from adding good food to your diet, you can also take some stuff out—or at least limit your intake. We’re talking foods containing caffeine, alcohol, and high amounts of trans and saturated fat. Yes, all the foods that put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’.

Read: The Perfect Day of Eating for a Good Night’s Sleep, According to a Dietitian

4. Adopt a furry friend

If you’ve ever dabbled with the idea of owning a furbaby, consider this your official sign from the universe. Studies show that interacting with animals can significantly reduce cortisol levels and ease feelings of anxiety and distress. One specific case study revealed that 48 adults felt better when they were accompanied by a dog rather than a human friend during a socially stressful situation.

Another study split a group of people into two: pet owners versus non-pet owners. The former apparently experienced a greater drop in cortisol when given a canine companion compared to the latter. The researchers posit that this is due to the pet owner’s existing friendship with dogs.

There’s definitely a scientific explanation for why this is but, long story short: pets are cute, cuddly, and they reduce your stress a tonne.

5. Get enough sleep

Seems redundant, but hear us out. If you can get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, your body will be able to properly regulate cortisol. Regulated cortisol, in turn, improves your sleep quality – enabling you to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

It’s a cycle, yes, but one that you can benefit from. Several consistent nights of deep, sufficient sleep is enough to kickstart a healthy loop of adequate slumber that, you’ll find, results in a myriad of benefits you can enjoy while you’re awake – things such as improved cognitive functions, higher energy, better mood, and the mental scope to find a fitted sheet that matches your mattress size properly.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualised health advice. If you are concerned about your health and well-being, please speak to your GP, who will advise on the correct treatment plan. You can also call Lifeline 24/7 for mental health support on 13 11 14.

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