You’ve probably heard that cortisol is the main stress hormone, but did you know that your cortisol levels don’t remain the same throughout the day? In fact, your cortisol levels follow a daily rhythm that plays a role in helping you wake up.
Read this article to learn more about normal cortisol levels in the morning.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol, which is also known as “the stress hormone”, is a steroid hormone. This hormone is secreted by the adrenal or suprarenal glands, and from there, it goes into the bloodstream and circulates through the entire body.
According to the Society for Endocrinology, practically all cell types in the body have receptors for cortisol. That means that cortisol can have different effects in many parts of your body.
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Cortisol levels throughout the day
It’s normal for cortisol levels to vary throughout the day. According to the Cleveland Clinic, your cortisol levels will typically be higher in the morning and lower in the evening, right before you go to sleep. These variations suggest that cortisol plays an important role in the process of waking up.
According to a study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, this process is regulated by the hypothalamus, which is a small gland located deep inside your brain.
What is a normal cortisol level in the morning?
Under normal circumstances, your cortisol levels go up by approximately 40-75% within 30 to 45 minutes of waking up, according to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. This is known as the cortisol awakening response (CAR).
The exact function of the CAR isn’t entirely understood yet, but it could help improve arousal and provide an energy boost in the morning. According to a study published in the journal Stress: Concepts, Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior, it could also be related to stress, affective disorders, and physical health risks.
Your cortisol test results could vary depending on your age, gender, and other factors. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, normal blood cortisol levels at different times of the day are:
- 6 -8 a.m.: 10-20 mcg/dL
- Around 4 p.m.: 3-10 mcg/dL
Cortisol levels can also be tested using saliva samples to create a diurnal cortisol curve. For this test, you would need to take four saliva samples at different times of the day. The test is also known as a four point cortisol curve or circadian cortisol pattern.
A diurnal cortisol curve test can be helpful to assess your adrenal function and hormone levels, and it’s typically ordered with several other lab exams, including tests for other hormone levels.
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Cortisol - yourhormones.info
Cortisol - my.clevelandclinic.org
Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
The cortisol awakening response – Applications and implications for sleep medicine - sciencedirect.com
Chapter 34 - Cortisol Awakening Response - sciencedirect.com
Cortisol (Blood) - urmc.rochester.edu