TIL: 28th October 2023 — cortisol is much more than a stress hormone

I've been on a bunch of trainings that talk about the importance of hormone chemistry in the person's "monkey" behaviour and well-being. Namely, they tie adrenaline to the the fight-or-flight response, serotonin to happiness/anxiety and cortisol to stress.

It's, in fact, easy to find references to cortisol as a "stress hormone" i.e. a "bad" thing on just a cursory search. Those trainings emphasise on how one should keep it under control to be productive as primal stress isn't much of a thing in today's world (ha-ha-ha). This is a funny thing to say about a hormone from someone who isn't a medical professional (disclaimer: neither am I). But I say always find solid proof of anything they state as facts on trainings like these and ignore the psycho-typing bucket they put you in for this :)

So today I learned, the stress response is just a small part of what cortisol is responsible for. It's a fundamental block in everything from metabolism, cellular processes, immune suppression (preventing inflammation) and all the way to the sleep/wake cycles.

The latter is of most interest to me as I suffer from sleep cycle imbalance and recurrent short sleep, which affects my migraines. I've been prescribed melatonin supplements to help the natural production and initiate the sleep cycle before a certain time of day (along with some other medication) and it basically worked wonders for some time. I haven't been more energetic and my migraines almost went away.

Turns out, while melatonin production starts at late evening and stops at early morning, the cortisol production is increased in the early awakening hours, peaking 30-45 minutes after — all part of the circadian rhythm. This is known as cortisol awakening response. This is also why you shouldn't take any stimulants (like coffee and tea) right after waking up — it's only going to be worse, so it's advised to wait for 1-1.5h before the first cup.

It's interesting that the strength of CAR varies on a lot of factors, including whether it's a week day or a weekend, noise, fatigue, socioeconomic status, time of awakening, etc. There is a study that shows those who reported short sleep on two or more occasions have low levels of cortisol when they wake.

I wonder if awaking earlier primes you for the day ahead better by releasing more cortisol when it's most needed and initiating sleep earlier kind of fits you into this intended region?