We’ve all been there: It’s 10 pm, you’re in bed but you can’t stop thinking about all the work that’s waiting for you in the morning. Your mind is racing; you’re tossing and turning as the hours go by.
Stress is one of the most common reasons for sleepless nights—and it’s mostly because of cortisol, your main stress hormone. When this infamous hormone is left unmanaged, it affects almost every part of your health, including sleep.
Luckily, there are things you can do to manage it. And we’re going to explore those here.
But first, how does cortisol affect sleep?
Your body has an internal clock that’s synchronized with your day and night schedule. It’s governed by hormones like cortisol (your stress hormone) and melatonin (your sleep hormone), which ebb and flow in a roughly equal but opposite pattern.
Cortisol levels usually peak right before you wake up—when they surge to boost your energy—and gradually fall as the day goes by. Meanwhile, melatonin levels fall in the morning and afternoon, and peak at night as your body preps for sleep.
But when times are tough, cortisol doesn’t dip when it’s supposed to. This can disrupt your melatonin production—and affects your sleep.
So what can you do when this starts to happen? Here are 5 things you can try.
1. Drink green tea during the day
An all-star in the wellness world, green tea is packed with good-for-you ingredients like L-theanine, an amino acid that can help calm your body and mind by increasing levels of certain brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and GABA that play a role in mood and feelings of calmness.
Not only that, L-theanine also appears to help regulate the production and release of cortisol from your adrenal glands, thereby reducing the amount that gets into your bloodstream.1
Try swapping your coffee for green tea during the day or sip on a warm cup of decaf green tea before bed to help calm your mind and get your body ready for rest.2
2. Don’t skip meals
Here’s the thing: We all know we should be eating 3 meals a day, but whether we actually follow that is a different story.
Sleeping an extra 15 minutes might sound better than eating breakfast and working through lunch might seem more productive. But what you may not know is that when you’re hungry, your body identifies this as a stressor and releases cortisol.
So if you’re skipping meals often, you may be spiking your cortisol levels, increasing feelings of agitation that can linger into the evening.3 Make regular meals a priority. If you know you’re going to have a busy day, try prepping some overnight oats or another quick meal ahead of time to prevent hunger-induced stress.
3. Reduce your caffeine intake
If you had a rough night, it can be tempting to pour yourself three or four cups of coffee to get through the day. But while you might feel that you need that extra jolt in the moment, you may be setting yourself up for another sleepless night.
Not only can late-day caffeine make you feel alert at bedtime, but it can also stimulate the release of cortisol and induce feelings of stress.4 Aim to cut off caffeinated drinks like coffee, some teas or soda at least 6 hours before you snooze.
If you need that afternoon pick-me-up, try a lower-caffeine option like green tea or even decaf coffee.
4. Stay Active
You’ve probably heard this before: Stay active and keep stress at bay. Most moderate to low-impact exercises are a great way to reduce stress and cortisol.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, hormones it makes in response to physical stress. One of these—beta-endorphin—not only lifts your mood but also helps suppress cortisol production.5
So even with a full schedule, make it a priority to squeeze in some time for a low-impact activity like walking, swimming, yoga or Pilates. You’re more likely to get better rest at night and feel more energy during the day.
5. Eat a balanced diet
Life is all about balance – and your diet is no different. While it’s perfectly okay to enjoy any food in moderation (hello, Oreos!) it’s best to fill your diet with mainly whole foods for your health and stress management. Fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are rich in nutrients like B-vitamins that help regulate cortisol levels to prevent it from interfering with your sleep cycle.6
Stress is unavoidable—and that’s okay. We all experience it from time to time. But prolonged stress causes your cortisol levels to stay high throughout the day, affecting all parts of your health and well-being—including your sleep. If the pressures of life are keeping you up at night, try these steps to help your body get the rest it needs to tackle those pressures head on.
Check out next: The 6 worst foods for sleep
Natalie is a nutritionist with a Bachelor’s in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of North Florida. Natalie believes that proper nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated and is determined to help others reach their health goals.
Natalie is just one of the many experts at Persona who are here to accelerate your wellness journey. If you have questions about nutrition or your personalized program, reach out now or book a free appointment with Natalie or another of our amazing nutritionists.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal, or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.