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How Does Cortisol and Melatonin Impact Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. To understand the importance of sleep and how to improve it, it is important to know how the hormones cortisol and melatonin play a crucial role in regulating sleep. Cortisol and melatonin are two hormones integral to the body’s natural sleep cycle, and their balance can be assessed through sleep lab testing.

By understanding how these hormones work and how they affect sleep, we can make informed decisions that can improve our overall quality of sleep.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone naturally produced in the adrenal glands. It plays an important role in helping our body cope with stress, regulate blood pressure and sugar levels, and control inflammation. Cortisol levels typically rise early in the morning and decrease as the day progresses. However, when we experience stress or consume caffeine, it can cause cortisol levels to spike, leading to disturbances in our sleep patterns.

Cortisol’s role in our sleep cycle is to alert us when it is time to wake up. When cortisol levels are high, we tend to be more alert, awake, and able to concentrate better during the day. If cortisol levels remain elevated for too long, it can cause restlessness, insomnia, and difficulty staying asleep throughout the night. It is also important to note that too little cortisol can cause fatigue and difficulty focusing during the day.

man sleeping on a pink bed

Examples of situations that can lead to elevated cortisol levels include excessive stress, physical exhaustion, psychological distress, and caffeine intake. For example, if someone experiences a traumatic event or works too hard without taking breaks throughout the day, this can cause their cortisol levels to spike.

How cortisol impacts sleep

Cortisol is a hormone often referred to as the “stress hormone.” In a healthy individual, cortisol levels increase in the morning and decrease at night. This helps to regulate your natural sleep/wake cycle. However, if cortisol levels remain elevated during the evening, it can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

High cortisol levels can make you feel alert and awake, preventing you from falling asleep. Additionally, high cortisol levels at night can disrupt your natural sleep/wake cycle. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.

There are several ways to help reduce cortisol levels before bedtime. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help lower cortisol levels before sleeping.

tired woman unable to sleep

Additionally, avoiding caffeine and stimulating activities close to bedtime can also be beneficial. Taking steps to reduce stress during the day can also help to reduce cortisol levels at night.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body responsible for regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle. When darkness falls, melatonin levels rise and induce feelings of sleepiness. During daylight hours, melatonin levels drop, and alertness increases. As we age, melatonin production naturally declines.

Exposure to blue light from electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers can suppress melatonin production and reduce sleep quality. Additionally, exposure to light during night-time hours—for example, when you get up to use the bathroom—can disrupt your melatonin production. Jet lag can also decrease melatonin levels by disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm.

How melatonin impacts sleep

Melatonin is a hormone that plays an important role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland in our brains and is released when it starts to get dark. This hormone helps signal to our body that it’s time to start winding down for the day, making us feel drowsy and ready for sleep. Low melatonin levels can lead to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

woman sleeping in bed peacefully

If you’re having trouble getting enough melatonin to help you sleep, there are some natural ways to increase your levels. Exposure to natural sunlight during the day can help regulate your body’s production of melatonin, as well as using a blue light filter on your electronic devices before bed. Blue light has been shown to reduce melatonin production, so turning off all screens at least an hour before bed can be beneficial.

Interaction between Cortisol and Melatonin

Cortisol and melatonin are two hormones that play a major role in regulating sleep. While cortisol is often associated with stress and wakefulness, melatonin is known for its role in promoting restful sleep. Despite being opposites, cortisol, and melatonin have an important relationship with each other.

The relationship between cortisol and melatonin works like a seesaw: when one is high, the other is low. When it’s time to go to sleep, our cortisol levels begin to decline as melatonin increases. This is known as the circadian rhythm and helps us maintain healthy sleep patterns. When this balance is disrupted, it can cause sleep disturbances.

In order to ensure that cortisol and melatonin are balanced and that optimal sleep is achieved, it’s important to make sure that we’re following a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding late-night eating, reducing stress, and getting plenty of exposure to natural light during the day. All these activities help regulate cortisol and melatonin levels in our bodies.

Timing is also key when trying to balance cortisol and melatonin.1 Our cortisol levels usually peak in the morning and decline throughout the day, while our melatonin levels increase as the sun goes down. To ensure that our sleep-wake cycle remains regular, it’s important to keep to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends or holidays. This will help to keep our cortisol and melatonin in balance and make it easier for us to get a good night’s sleep.


Cortisol and melatonin are two important hormones that affect the quality of sleep. They work together to regulate the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle and to maintain healthy levels of energy throughout the day. Poor cortisol and melatonin balance can lead to insomnia and poor sleep. In order to optimize sleep, it is important to establish a consistent sleep schedule and practice a relaxing bedtime routine. Sleep lab testing can also help to assess hormone levels and diagnose any underlying sleep-related issues. By balancing cortisol and melatonin levels, you can achieve better sleep and improve overall health.

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Lab Testing - Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to do lab tests occasionally?

It is important to do lab tests occasionally because they can provide valuable information about an individual's health and help to identify potential health issues early on. Lab tests can measure a wide range of factors, including blood count, cholesterol levels, liver and kidney function, and hormone levels, and can provide insight into an individual's overall health and wellness. Additionally, lab tests can help to diagnose and monitor the progression of certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and can help to identify any potential health risks or concerns. By doing lab tests occasionally, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of potential health problems in the future.

What does a routine blood test cover?

A routine blood test is used to check for a range of things, including your blood count and the levels of certain chemicals and substances in your blood. Blood tests can also be used to check how well certain organs, such as your liver and kidneys, are functioning.

How is a blood sample collected for lab testing?

A blood sample for lab testing is typically collected through a process called venipuncture, which involves inserting a small needle into a vein to draw blood. This is usually done on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

What is the cost of a lab test?

In general, the cost of a lab test can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It is always best to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider to get an accurate estimate of the cost of a lab test.

Read More: Lab Testing FAQ


[1] Zamanian Z. - Outline of changes in cortisol and melatonin circadian rhythms in the security guards of shiraz university of medical sciences.;