3 Signs Your Cortisol Levels Are Too High

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is essential for many things in the body, including regulating blood sugar and metabolism and reducing inflammation. Although necessary, overexposure to cortisol can be problematic.

When we’re stressed it causes a surge in cortisol throughout our body, which is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response. When high cortisol levels remain continuously high because of ongoing stress, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, forcing the body to press pause on non-necessary functions that are required for immediate survival, such as tissue repair and digestion. If you’re not sure whether your cortisol levels may be too high, here are some tell-tale signs.

Weight gain around your stomach

While generalised weight gain is common in people overeat to cope with increased stress and cortisol levels, localised fat around your belly is indictive of chronically high cortisol. That’s because cortisol and adrenaline (which is also released as part of the stress response) help prepare body for stressful situations by increasing the body’s metabolic rate and releasing stored glucose. Any glucose that then isn’t used is converted into fat stored in the abdomen.

Difficulty sleeping or waking in the night

The body's melatonin and cortisol level usually follow a regular, 24-hour circadian rhythm, with cortisol spiking in the morning to help you wake and dipping in the evening and melatonin peaking in the evening to help you prepare you for sleep. If your cortisol levels are excessively high all the time however, it’s highly likely that your sleep will suffer as a result, preventing you from feeling sleepy and like you’re ready to wind down. Poor sleep, as a result of too much cortisol, causes more issues the following day by increasing your sleep debt and decreasing your energy levels.

Reduced healing

When the body constantly produces cortisol, it interferes with the production of anti-inflammatory molecules called cytokines, which are responsible for triggering healing. Chronic cortisol exposure also triggers an inflammatory response which can exacerbate existing inflammation if you’re injured or unwell.