The Normal Cortisol Curve And How It Gets Out Of Balance
Cortisol is necessary for normal healthy functioning. It’s one of the vital elements that keep our systems in balance. It makes your blood pressure go up only when it needs to go up. It gives you extra energy when you need it to perform. And this pattern is repeated over and over throughout your body.
When your adrenal glands are functioning properly, your cortisol levels will be highest in the morning and gradually taper off throughout the day and into the evening, being the lowest in the late evening so you can easily fall asleep.
This is called the cortisol curve.
Here is a look at how the normal cortisol curve can get out of balance and what that means for your body and your health.
CORTISOL GONE ROGUE
In an ideal world, cortisol is highest in the morning, helping us stay focused during the day. It gradually tapers off through the afternoon and evening. But if your energy starts to run low during familiar activities, says Filomena Trindade, MD, of the Institute for Functional Medicine, it could be a warning that your cortisol pattern is disrupted. Catching more colds or having a shorter emotional fuse are other early signs. A saliva test at a lab can confirm if this is the problem.
“You can’t keep withdrawing from your adrenal bank account without putting more funds in, with sleep and other healthy-lifestyle habits,” she says. “You’ll go bankrupt.”
Here are some of the common patterns malfunctioning cortisol levels tend to follow. All of them can overlap, but most often they occur in progression. After a prolonged period of producing extra cortisol, the adrenals eventually get fatigued and quit making the hormone.
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 and burns sometime around midmorning.
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.
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 indications 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.
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 indications of low cortisol are:
- You’re dragging through each day, even after plenty of sleep.
- It takes high-octane coffee or intense exercise to pull you up — but it doesn’t last.
- You fall asleep everywhere, including work meetings.
– via Experience Life
Get Your Cortisol Curve Back In Shape
If you see yourself in the above descriptions of out of balance cortisol curve it may be a good idea to get a cortisol saliva test so that you can work with your doctor to make changes to get your cortisol curve back to normal to protect your long-term health and give you a better day to day experience of your life!
Have you ever had your cortisol tested with a saliva test?