Is Cortisol Causing Your Insomnia?
It has been reported that more than 30% of the US adult population suffer from insomnia and approximately 10% suffer from chronic insomnia – meaning that these individuals suffer from insomnia up to 5 times a week or MORE!
I remember dealing with chronic insomnia and feeling SO TIRED. I did not having the ability to quiet my racing thoughts and naturally fall asleep. I would often cry in bed because I couldn’t sleep. My husband would try to rub my back and soothe me to sleep but nothing seemed to help. It felt like an endless cycle of sleepless night, later fueled by heavy amounts of black coffee and lattes the next day.
The rhythm of my life was filled with busy mornings, racing my kids off to day care, hurrying to the office and racing from meeting to meeting until the work day came to a close. I would then race down Providence Rd (in Charlotte, NC) to pick up my kids from daycare at a reasonable time (so they weren’t the last ones there) and then start working on dinner and hopefully have some play time with the kids….all the while trying to check in on emails and stay “connected” if a work colleague needed me. After settling the kids to bed at 8pm and then taking my shower, I would clock in for another few hours of work, often ending around 11pm. If I was lucky, it was closer to 10pm. I would then anxiously get into bed and hope that I could fall asleep quickly…which RARELY if EVER happened.
I lived like this for YEARS and its damage could be seen in the accelerated aging on my face. It was very concerning and yet I had no idea how to get out of the trap. I have always been very health conscious and I knew that I did not want to rely on medications to fall asleep. There had to be another way.
What I did not realize back then is that the adrenal hormone cortisol was playing a big role in my inability to fall asleep. You might 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. Cortisol stimulates the central nervous system during times of fear and stress which activates the “fight or flight” feeling.
I lived in this state of heightened fight or flight for years, which was very evident in my poor sleep. Cortisol wakes and arouses the body and mind, making restful sleep very difficult. And for people suffering with insomnia, cortisol levels may remain high all day – essentially keeping people trapped in the fight or flight posture.
I found for myself that this highly aroused state was directly due to the hectic lifestyle I was leading. I was living in a perpetual state of stress which started to cause a slew of health issues. I knew things needed to change and I knew that stress was at the root cause, but I felt trapped in the never ending work that I had to do – both in my professional life and at home. And as a result, I never felt like I was doing either job particularly well.
It has been 4 years since I started to turn my sleep around and I am so much happier and healthier as a result. Do you want to know one of my biggest strategies for deeper and more restful sleep? You may not like it….and you may think it’s impossible to implement but I’m here to tell you it is possible.
Stop doing all mental work after 6pm as often as possible.
Yup, that’s right. No mental work past 6pm. This gives your body and mind time to unwind the accumulated stress from the day and get into a mindset of relaxation and sleep.
And what happens to the work you didn’t complete the night before??? You set your alarm one hour earlier the next day and knock it out at 5 or 6am.
I know…I know…waking up earlier for many people is often challenging. BUT if you start to change the pattern of working late nights and consistently fall asleep by 10pm..that means 7-8 hours of regular sleep if you are waking at 5 or 6am. It sounds difficult, but please trust me, this is easier to implement than you would think. I have guided many of my clients to take this step with surprising results. They even grow to really like this time of day.
And if ending work at 6pm is impossible, start to slowly cut back on your evening work schedule until you get to 6pm. Give it a try and let me know what you think!