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Sleep Science

Cortisol: The Good, The Bad, And The Science Behind Your Stress

Let’s dive in deeper to really understand what cortisol does to the body and how we can stress less and sleep easy with weighted blankets!

6 minute read

SLEEP SCIENCE

Cortisol: the good, the bad, and the science behind your stress.

6 minute read
wonderful weighted weaves girl in napper red

As sleep science fanatics, it’s our mission to stay up to date on the current research and findings on all things sleep. Hormones are a common topic, as they play a particularly important role in sleep and stress management.

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” because it directly links with our stress level and mental health. Too much cortisol is the recipe for stress overload, sleepless nights, and even anxiety. We want to combat the cortisol epidemic and find ways to keep our mental health in check naturally.

Here’s our plan: Our trusty weighted blankets were designed with the goal of reducing stress, lowering cortisol, and encouraging a balanced system. Let’s dive in deeper to really understand what cortisol does to the body and how we can stress less and sleep easy with weighted blankets!


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Did you know?
Laughter has been shown to reduce cortisol. Grab your Bearaby and turn on a comedy for a happy, healing night in.


What is cortisol?


At its simplest, cortisol is a steroidal hormone that activates our fight-or-flight response. It is released by the adrenal cortex (the small glands that sit on top of the kidneys) and stimulates our brain and other organs.

Does the mention of cortisol make you cringe? If you’ve struggled with chronic stress or weight-gain, cortisol might sound like a dirty word. Let’s explore cortisol in depth to learn what it really does, why we need it, and how to keep it under control.


Cortisol and stress


Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because it’s released when we feel under strain or tension. Unfortunately, excess cortisol in our system can also make us feel more stressed, causing a troublesome feedback loop.

We may complain about stress, but stress is a normal and even helpful experience. Under the right circumstances, stress can motivate us to act, change, and grow. In some cases, stress helps us identify and escape life-threatening situations. This kind of stress is called eustress, as it has a positive effect on us.

The trouble begins when we begin to experience stress too regularly and for experiences that aren’t dangerous. The modern lifestyle (busy commutes, deadlines, toppling to-do lists, sleep deprivation, the list goes on…) has changed the way we perceive stress and transformed it from a rare occurrence to a routine as common as your morning coffee break.

This chronic stress leads to a constant (and growing) supply of cortisol flowing through our veins, affecting our mental and physical health. Excess cortisol and the effects of a high stress lifestyle are known to contribute to serious conditions like high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, poor immune function, lowered bone density, and cognitive issues.


Cortisol and sleep


Cortisol is highly influenced by the circadian cycle and can have a big impact on the quality and nature of our sleep. Cortisol levels should naturally rise two to three hours after falling asleep and continue to rise until the morning. This creates an awakening process in the brain that triggers us to get up and start our day. Later on, levels reduce gradually until nighttime so our brains can prepare for sleep.

High levels of cortisol, however, can wreak havoc on this system. When stress shoots cortisol through the roof, we experience sleep issues like fragmented sleep, shortened sleep time, and reduced slow-wave (restorative) sleep. In turn, poor sleep worsens this imbalance, increasing cortisol and continuing the cycle.


The subtle signs of a stressed-out system


Cortisol is a natural hormone that our body needs to function. It keeps us on our toes and gives us the ability to cut and run in face of danger. But, like anything in life, moderation is key.

Unfortunately, the continuously high cortisol levels caused by chronic stress tip the scales out of our favor and leave our bodies crying for help. Here are some common signs that your cortisol levels are too high:

  • You experience frequent bouts of anxiety or feel stressed daily.
  • You notice weight gain, particularly around your middle, upper back, and face.
  • Breakouts worsen or you develop acne.
  • Your skin feels thin and you bruise easily.
  • You experience muscle weakness or trouble with stamina or endurance.
  • You often feel flushed or notice redness in your face.
  • You struggle to get adequate sleep or suffer insomnia.
  • You have trouble concentrating.

Natural ways to manage cortisol levels


When it comes to reducing cortisol overload, it’s all about moderating your initial response to “stressors.” Finding new ways to respond and interact with all that life throws you is the secret to getting your cortisol under control. A more intentional lifestyle will reduce your stress, lower cortisol, and reverse those pesky side-effects (like weight gain, insomnia, and acne).

Here are a few things to consider:

Re-prioritize: In a perfect world, we would be able to do anything and everything we wanted to take on with ease. In real life? Not a chance. Stress occurs when we put too much on our plates. Remove the unnecessary or soul-crushing tasks and commitments that keep in you in perpetual overwhelm.

Be still: For the busy and active high achievers out there, being still can feel like punishment. Let’s reframe. Being still (through meditation, mindfulness, and 8 hours of quality sleep under your Napper) is perhaps the most productive thing you could possibly do – not to mention, it will plummet your stress and cortisol levels.


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Spread the love: Connection and kindness heal. They also reduce cortisol levels and melt away stress. Make it a habit to spend more time with friends, family, and pets when stress takes over. Studies have shown that caring for others (specially a four-legged friend) reduces cortisol levels and makes us all-around happier people.


Weighted blankets and cortisol


Did you know you can “hug” away your high cortisol levels? This might sound funny, but it is serious neuroscience!

The magic is called proprioceptive input, or deep touch pressure therapy. Scientists have found that touch stimulation, like deep touch pressure therapy, can reduce our stress response and lower our cortisol output.

Good news – we can all access the amazing stress-relieving benefits of this therapy for ourselves. To experience deep touch pressure therapy, go for a massage, get a hug from a loved one, and relax all night under your weighted blanket.

This encouraging research was the first inspiration for creating Bearaby’s weighted blankets. While our hearts are dedicated to helping others reduce stress and achieve pro-level sleep, our brains are all about the research.

Understanding the science and huge potential of using deep touch pressure at home is key to our bigger Bearaby mission. With a little heart and a lot of science, we believe we can help change the world, one stress-free, well-slept human at a time.


Bearassentials

• Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in the body when in stressful or fearful situations.


• High levels of cortisol can cause many health problems and negatively impact our sleep and mood.


• Take a well-rounded approach to reduce cortisol by employing stress-busting habits and snuggling up under a weighted blanket.

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Did you know?
Laughter has been shown to reduce cortisol. Grab your Bearaby and turn on a comedy for a happy, healing night in.


THE LAY LOW

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