Cortisol’s Role in Waking Up: Why It’s Essential

The Importance of Cortisol for Waking Up

Walker and Huberman discuss the importance of cortisol in the sleep-wake cycle. Cortisol is not inherently bad, as it is essential for immune system function, waking, and certain forms of memory formation. However, too much or too little cortisol can be detrimental.

Deep sleep helps dissipate the stress-related axis and the release of cortisol. Cortisol levels naturally drop at night, with one of the steepest declines occurring when a person starts feeling sleepy. This decline is crucial for optimal sleep, as elevated cortisol levels can lead to a “tired but wired” state, commonly seen in insomnia.

To optimize sleep, Walker advocates avoiding stressful events, arguments, and disturbing news in the late evening and early night hours. Cortisol levels start to rise naturally when a person is ready to wake up, coordinating with other biological processes such as adenosine levels, circadian rhythm, and core body temperature.

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