Are you a bad sleeper?

If you answered yes, then here’s what you should know about clowns and cortisol before you go to watch Stephen Kings, IT Movie.

You may be suffering with high levels of cortisol in your body, especially if you already consider yourself to be stressed. Cortisol is your primary stress hormone – the “fight or flight” hormone, produced by the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys.  In certain situations, cortisol can be really useful, especially if you need to run away from a terrifying clown that has just jumped out the bedroom cupboard.

Cortisol levels should be highest in the early morning for waking, then gradually decrease during the day, with the lowest levels in the evening. This evening dip should coincide with an increase in your melatonin production, to bring about a peaceful night sleep. This delicate dance between hormones is our circadian rhythm or the natural sleep/wake cycle.

So, if you are currently debating whether to see the Stephen King classic or not, the first thing to remember is that cortisol is triggered by FEAR, as well as stress. If you are stressed and you’re already a bad sleeper you may not want to be adding more cortisol in to the mix.  Watching a terrifying movie in the evening could turn out to be the equivalent of downing a ‘cortisol cocktail’ and being in a cinema, there is nowhere to run and (hopefully) no-one to fight. So the cortisol is triggered but is not actually needed after all.

Now in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with the odd cocktail (cortisol or otherwise) but it’s the ‘cortisol hangover’ that’s worth noting down.

What Cortisol Can Impact 

  • the entire endocrine system –  including thyroid hormone (which regulates metabolism)
  • insulin levels – insulin regulates blood sugar and when facing stress or fear, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores which in theory gives you the energy to fight or flee! But, if this is elevated consistently, this produces glucose, bringing up your blood sugar levels which could even lead to diabetes.
  • sex hormones –  oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which regulate sexual function, menstrual cycles and menopause.
  • immune function – cortisol is well known for suppressing the immune function and can put you at risk of a number of digestive disorders and general illnesses from colds and flu to chronic fatigue.
  • neurotransmitters –  these are the chemicals in our brain that help us regulate day to day activity, mood, focus mental clarity and sleep.
  • bone health – high levels of cortisol can cause breakdown of bone as well as the collagen matrix that holds bone together.

In addition to the above, and I don’t mean to be a total party pooper, there’s something else to know about FEAR

The TCM Viewpoint of Fear

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, the emotion of fear is related to the Kidneys, Bladder and adrenals. A person with depleted or out of balance Kidney energy (in TCM terms), might well present as unusually fearful, anxious, panicky and possibly even depressed. If you experience a lot of fear in your life, from whatever source, you will be weakening your Kidney energy.  This in turn could lead to you becoming even more fearful and so the cycle continues.

Adopting a healthy, balanced lifestyle to keep your Kidney energy strong, is pretty much the root to longevity and reproductive health in TCM.  Let’s not forget here that TCM is essentially a form of observational medicine that has been developed over 2000 years.  In my opinion, these ancient insights should not be dismissed.

Whilst some fear is of course, valid and unavoidable, choosing to experience fear in the form of a terrifying clown, is not necessarily a wise choice. Especially if you are already experiencing stress and battling with sleep.  If you are stressed and a bad sleeper but still want to watch IT, consider the points below:

3 Tips to Keep Cortisol in Check

  • Reduce or eliminate evening stress. Develop a bedtime routine which brings relaxation in to play a couple of hours before actually going to bed.
  • Take steps to counter day to day stress and busyness. Ten minute meditations, acupuncture, exercise, yoga are some of my favourites. If you struggle with time, try these 5 quick tips to get your started.
  • Remember, life is all about balance but balance looks different to different people. Find what works for you. Stress can be good but be aware of the ‘cortisol hangover’.

Finally, remember FEAR could fuel a cortisol surge. If you have to watch the IT movie, maybe go for a matinee so there is time to reduce your elevated cortisol levels before bed.

And in case you are wondering, I for one will not be going to see IT.

I am terrified of clowns (and too much cortisol).

Sleep well.