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Your Cortisol Curve and Circadian Rhythm: Better Sleep, More Rested and Get the Most Out of Your Day

You know the feeling when you get up early in the morning, you have massive amounts of energy and you’re ready to smash through whatever plans you have on your agenda. The chances are is that you’ve had some good rest and that your hormones are working optimally and you’re firing.

It’s a good feeling and sometimes life and stress can get in the way and some mornings aren’t as optimal as they can be.

It can seem like some mornings you’re waking up tired and both your motivation and drive for waking up and work isn’t the same. You know what you need to get done but the quality of your work and lifestyle isn’t the same as what it use to be or what it can always be.

Here’s one thing to understand to help you maximise your sleep to produce more energy and to feel better rested so you can get more done.

A normal cortisol curve and circadian rhythm:

Is when you wake up early in the morning, your cortisol levels rise giving you a surge of energy. Exposure to morning light shuts off melatonin (a hormone which induces sleep). Your sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone start to secrete and you have motivation and drive to go about starting your day.

Throughout mid morning and lunch your cortisol curve is still slightly elevated so you’re awake and alert to do things such as work, train and any other physical activities. By the mid afternoon to evening your cortisol curve will decline making you feel more tired and ready to sleep by the time it’s ready to go to bed.

During sleep your neural system is down regulated allowing your brain to heal, growth hormones are released so your muscles, cells and hormones are re-energised and regenerated.

This cycle would then be repeated. Waking up with a lot more energy to get more done and then getting restful sleep in the evening when you would fall tired.

If you have experienced this you know how good of a feeling it is. You get most of your important work done by the time everyone else is just getting started. Your work and day feels effortless and it feels you have more time and more energy to get more things done; and it’s because you do.

Of course… in this day in age. There is life and a number of things can get in the way of an optimal cortisol curve and circadian rhythm.

  • Having to work late or being a night owl for an extended period of time can change your daily habits to naturally go to sleep later
  • Acute levels of stress throughout the day which causes cortisol to stay elevated into the afternoon and evening.
  • Always being “on it” without having enough adequate rest
  • Being a parent, having children, having to wake up in the middle of the night
  • Technology, being on your phone in bed can cause you to stay awake for longer

What can improper management of your rest and recovery lead to?

I’ve seen it and experienced it myself. There is only a limited amount of time you can get away with doing optimal work with little rest before you get burnt out and start feeling drained and tired.

Not only that you can lose motivation and drive for work and it can be a long road to recovery having to sacrifice both your work and your lifestyle to get your own health back in order so you can start doing it all again.

The saddest part is sometimes you won’t realise it until it’s too late.

  • The quality of your work goes down and the results start to show
  • You start to gain weight, get sick, feel tired and lose mental clarity and function
  • Your relationships break down
  • Progression, taking whatever it is that you want to do to the next level becomes harder and too overwhelming
  • You feel like you’re doing a lot of work but not going anywhere

When you have more responsibilities and want to do more with work, family, training etc you realise your health, strength and energy levels are even more so important. You want to wake up and be able to do the things you want to do. Your time becomes more valuable.

Here are some things you can do to optimise your cortisol curve and circadian rhythm to start getting better quality sleep and producing more energy:

Be mindful of your quality sleep hours.

What time you’re getting up, what time you’re going to bed and how many hours of sleep you’re getting. One of the simplest ways is being mindful of how much sleep you’re getting. If 7-8 hours is optimal for you then you should aim for 7-8 hours. Some people can operate optimally on 6. Anything less than that is not optimal. Also take note of a time period when you’ve operated at your best, what did you do then compared to now? Were you more rested and did you have better sleep?

Create habits that align with a normal cortisol curve and circadian rhythm.

Get up first thing in the morning, don’t hit the snooze button and experiment with training or exercising first thing in the morning if you aren’t already as this will help to elevate cortisol in the morning. In the afternoon to evening you can begin to establish more relaxing and unwinding routines such as switching off technology, logging off work, spending downtime with family or implementing spa, bath or sauna.

Supplement with natural herbs to help regulate cortisol.

Liquorice root, ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola are all herbs that you can supplement with to raise low cortisol levels in the morning. They are adaptogens and will help to regulate your cortisol throughout the day. For e.g. if you have low cortisol in the morning it will help to bring it up and if you have high cortisol at night it will help to bring it down.

Schedule in rest and recovery if you’re having to work late.

Sometimes you will need to get work done in the evening with tight deadlines to meet, children to look after and or if you naturally operate better in the evening. With that it mind it then becomes more of a priority to have an end date in sight and a period of rest and recovery to look forward to. This can be 1-2 days once a week, once a fortnight or even a holiday scheduled in. It becomes also important to spend the time however you want. People unwind and relax differently so it’s important to do whatever it is that you find is important to you. Some people like to play video games, some like to ride motorbikes and some like to read books. Do your thing.

Outsource.

Do you really have to cook your meals, clean your house and do every little minute task that needs to be done with your work and life? There is absolutely no shame in outsourcing tasks. Being around some of my mentors the last couple of years has taught me this. Some have PA’s, house keepers, au pairs and even meal delivery services to help them out when they can. They have no problems with doing the things they’re outsourcing and I’m sure if they had the time they would but they also realise that their time is better spent elsewhere.

Accumulate less stress.

Everything can be an accumulator of stress, anxiousness, poor nutrition, not recovering from training, training too frequently, work tasks to the smelly person sitting next to you. The less stress you accumulate, overall the better you’re going to be, the slower you’re going to age and the better sleep you’re going to get. Exercises I’ve practiced heavily in the past which have helped with my productivity include learning how to meditate (with Headspace), practicing mindfulness, gratitude logging, looking after my health and dealing with problems as they arise.

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