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Unlocking the Power of Your Morning Routine: 5 Simple Habits to Regulate Cortisol

A woman holds a dog and looks out a sunny window

How you start your day is often the best indicator of how well you'll manage stress for the rest of the day.

Here are a few simple habits that won't take much of your time but will have a positive and lasting impact over time. Try these five simple morning habits for regulating your cortisol and reduce stress.

Practice 2 minutes of slow belly breathing before getting out of bed. Deep breathing helps to trigger the body's relaxation response. When you are in a stressed state, you tend to have more shallow breathing. Fully filling the lungs with air helps to lower cortisol and relaxes the body.

Hold off on checking your phone for at least 30 minutes. Even if you utilize an app for tracking your sleep, get in the habit of turning off your alarm and immediately putting your phone down. Don't "just check" any social media, the weather, the news, your email or even look to see how many alerts their are.

Get 5-10 minutes of morning sunlight exposure. Exposure to morning sunlight has many positive effects on our sleep, circadian rhythms, and hormones. These effects are due in part to the way sunlight affects the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. This morning sun exposure can improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of sleep disturbances.

Eat a nourishing breakfast with protein (25g+), fiber-rich carbs (aka high-quality carbs) and fat. When we eat breakfast, we give our cortisol a little boost, which helps activate our systems and provides us with stable energy throughout the day. When we skip breakfast, we delay our normal cortisol pattern, leading to higher levels of cortisol in the afternoon. This can disrupt our circadian rhythm and sleep, interfere with the production and metabolism of estrogen, inhibit the release of GnRH (Gonadotropin hormone-releasing hormone), which in turn throws off other female reproductive hormones, and blunt thyroid function. Want to balance your hormones or improve your thyroid health? Start with cortisol!

Have caffeine (coffee, matcha, black tea...) with or after breakfast, not before or instead of breakfast. Because coffee can contain roughly 200-250mg of caffeine per serving, consuming it on an empty stomach can drastically increase your cortisol levels at once. Consistent, sharp rises in cortisol can interfere with the production of estrogen, progesterone, FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone), and LH (luteinizing hormone), as well as compromise thyroid function. 

Coffee consumption on an empty stomach can also potentially affect blood sugar control. Caffeine can temporarily increase blood sugar levels (especially if made with added cream and sugar), followed by a subsequent drop that compromises your blood sugar control for the rest of the day. 

So, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, open the windows to let the sunlight in, enjoy your belly breaths, find a nourishing breakfast and enjoy your coffee or tea with it instead of as a replacement for it and you will be well on your way to a more regulated cortisol pattern and maybe even sleep better tomorrow night!

French press coffee and place settings on a small table near a window letting natural light in.

Do you already incorporate these habits into your routine? What else do you find helpful? Share your thoughts below!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CPT owner Provision Nutrition

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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