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  • Writer's pictureAnna Rathbun, NC

For Night Owls Only

Are you exhausted in the morning, drag yourself through the day then begin to get energized in the evening - suddenly inspired to start projects late at night?

This is a sign that you have exhausted your adrenal glands so that cortisol is being produced in the evening instead of in the morning. See the cortisol graphic.

I’m not passing judgment on night owls. If night owl life is working for you, that’s great – the evening can be very peaceful and productive. If you’re struggling through a 9-5 workday and frustrated with exhaustion all day only to find some happiness and inspiration in the evening – this is why.

How to fix the cortisol curve.

Do you want to leave the night for the owls and have energy for a normal workday? We can use timing of food, exercise and rest to adjust your cortisol curve so you have energy during the day and are able to sleep at night.

Food timing

Carbohydrates cause a rise in blood sugar, then a rise in insulin which lowers cortisol. Protein and fat can be used to stabilizing blood sugar. To stabilize cortisol, you can use this information by enjoying only protein at breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar and not suppress cortisol. Enjoy eggs with spinach and butter, Turkey sautéed with onions and zucchini in olive oil or even a protein powder with berries, almond milk and flax oil (skip the juice and banana in the morning). High protein, good fat with vegetables or fruits and limited carbohydrates will allow morning cortisol to rise.

Towards lunch time go for balance as the cortisol curve should stop rising and level off. A turkey sandwich and a large salad, Grilled fish with grilled sweet potatoes, squash and peppers. Sautéed steak and broccoli over rice. Protein with good fat, vegetables and some carbs can give you a little more energy to last through the afternoon and support lowering the cortisol curve.

At dinner time think healthy, complex carbohydrates. Brown rice and vegetables sautéed in olive oil can help to lower cortisol while the vegetables can help your body cleanse while sleeping. This doesn’t mean you can’t have protein at dinner, but choosing beans, tofu or a smaller amount of meat with brown rice or sweet potato can help you to calm down in the evening and get ready for sleep.

An extra carbohydrate at bedtime can help you sleep by lowering cortisol. An apple, half a banana or a small glass of juice. If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, the same carbohydrate snack may help get you back to sleep.

Exercise Timing

Intense cardiovascular exercise can raise cortisol levels while gentle, relaxing exercise can lower cortisol. You can use this to your advantage to help improve your cortisol curve.

Use cardiovascular exercise during the day when cortisol is supposed to be higher. Running, surfing, cross training and anything that raises your heart rate require cortisol, so it’s best done during the day and avoided in the evening. While cardio exercise is extremely healthy, adrenal fatigue can be exacerbated by too much exercise. If this rings true for you, then cut your exercise in half and follow the food and rest suggestions until you feel better. Your muscles may like the extra exercise, but your adrenals could be suffering.

Use gentle exercise in the evening to relax your muscles and lower cortisol. Yoga, stretching, gentle walks and qigong exercises can be used to lower cortisol, relax muscles, and help you sleep.

Media Timing

Television, Facebook, googling the news and even a great, gripping book can raise your cortisol levels. As the evening comes on, it’s time to turn the brain off and relax to allow cortisol to lower. It’s normal to enjoy TV in the evening, but if you’re having trouble sleeping or always tired in the morning then shutting off the TV earlier and switching to gentle stretches while listening to gentle music will be more supportive of saving cortisol for the morning.

Time to rest

If you’re used to getting a jolt of energy and inspiration in the evening it can be hard to resist that inspiring cortisol when it surges at night. Cortisol feels good – it is inspiration and energy.

Some people simply can’t fit both morning energy and nighttime energy. If you want energy in the morning, then you may have to rest at night. It takes an ongoing commitment to resist the nighttime surge of cortisol. When it begins to get dark outside then it’s time to turn off media, do gentle stretching exercises and enjoy more carbohydrate meals in order to lower cortisol levels and allow your adrenal glands to rest.

All nutrition recommendations are individualized - if you're fine and healthy with exercise and TV at night, then enjoy! These recommendations are for those who are struggling with adrenal fatigue and a night owl cortisol curve. Using these recommendations in addition to all the other resources on my blog can help.


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