Biohacking Series Part 3:  Biohacking Your Cortisol For Less Stress, More Energy & Better Sleep

Biohacking Series Part 3: Biohacking Your Cortisol For Less Stress, More Energy & Better Sleep

If you read part 1 and part 2 of our biohacking series, you’ll know that ‘biohacking’ refers to various protocols, practices and lifestyle habits that aim to promote longevity, vitality, and overall health. Famous biohackers like Ben Greenfield, Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss made biohacking popular around 2005, and the global community continues to grow today. Biohacking can include nutrition, supplementation, tracking health data, and engaging in specific actions to enhance wellbeing. Part 1 of our biohacking series explored the benefits of cold exposure, and part 2 covered everything you need to know about the benefits of heat therapy and sauna.

In part 3, we’ll dive into cortisol: is cortisol bad? How can you lower cortisol levels? How does cortisol affect growth hormone? Signs of high cortisol levels, and how you can biohack your cortisol to reduce stress, raise your energy levels, and get better sleep. Stress is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues we deal with in modern life, so this could just be the most important thing you read this week….

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys, and play a huge role in whether we feel vital and energised, or burnt out and fatigued. Cortisol is commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’, and indeed cortisol is released when we perceive a stress. We also experience a cortisol rhythm throughout the day, that roughly mirrors our circadian rhythm, which you’ll learn more about in a moment.

Being the primary stress hormone, cortisol is released in acute situations, activating the ‘fight or flight’ response. When secreted, cortisol’s function is to increase blood sugar, enhance the brain’s use of glucose, increase heart rate and blood pressure, [1] as well as blocking pain signals and being a potent anti-inflammatory molecule. [2] All of these actions caused by an acute release of cortisol are actually there to help us ‘fight or flee’; if you’re running from danger, your body needs the extra power cortisol delivers to move faster, and it also needs to feel less pain so your mind isn’t distracted whilst you’re escaping from danger. The key issue is that most of us don’t have true danger to run from these days, and our levels of cortisol are secreted at the wrong time, which can cause disruption to the immune system, hormonal balance, digestion, sleep, and so much more.

The Problem With Chronic Stress & Cortisol

Remember that cortisol is released by the adrenals whenever we perceive a stress. Our brains are still essentially the same as they were when humans had true dangers to worry about, and which the rise in blood sugar and blood pressure would have been helpful for, but today, we don’t often need to run from things we perceive as dangerous. Perceived stress can include anything from eating foods your body is sensitive to, disrupted blood sugar levels, dealing with an injury, relationship stress, financial worries, work deadlines, or the constant stream of never-ending emails. When we perceive a stress, this sends a signal to the reticular activating system in the brain, which then sends a message to the locus seruleus. The locus seruleus then sends a message to the hypothalamus that cortisol needs to be released; the hypothalamus signals to the pituitary and adrenal glands, and cortisol is released. High levels of cortisol can cause:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Digestive issues
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Fertility challenges
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Food cravings
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen: studies have found that high levels of cortisol can increase grehlin (a hormone that stimulates appetite), with a preference for ‘comfort foods’, and can cause white adipose tissue to redistribute to the abdominal region. [3]

If we experience chronic stress and constantly send messages to the adrenals to release cortisol, this can result in burnout or ‘adrenal fatigue’, which is thought to occur when the adrenals have been overtaxed and can no longer produce the levels of cortisol optimal for the body to function well. [4] [5]

How Chronic Stress Leads To Burnout

Constantly activating the body’s ‘alarm’ by pushing the adrenals to release cortisol can cause the ‘adrenal fatigue’ mentioned above. Whilst it’s not currently a standard medical diagnosis you’ll hear from most GPs, burnout and fatigue are the very real results of imbalanced cortisol and prolonged periods of stress. [6] Symptoms of adrenal fatigue, adrenal insufficiency and burnout include fatigue, body aches, low blood pressure, light headedness, and unexplained weight loss, [7] whilst the mental impacts of burnout include lethargy, loss of motivation, reluctance to engage with other people, low mood and inability to handle stressors that may have once been easy to deal with. Take a look back at the symptoms of ‘high cortisol’ listed above, and you’ll notice that they contrast greatly with the burnout symptoms we’ve stated here; cortisol is a hormone we do actually need in a balanced amount, but when we ask for it too often, the body sometimes just can’t give any more.


Cortisol Rhythms

Even though it has a bad reputation, cortisol is actually a vital hormone we need in balanced amounts. Cortisol functions to ensure the body is alert and awake in the morning, and active and focused throughout the day. Evolutionarily speaking, when we woke up in the morning thousands of years ago, we’d need higher cortisol levels to support us in all the activities related to hunting; running, fighting, fleeing, and having narrowed focused vision. As we progressed through the day and ended up around the campfire before bed, cortisol levels would naturally fall, and drop right down when we went to bed.

Today, many of us experience cortisol rhythms that are disrupted, causing chronic stress, tiredness, loss of motivation, inability to sleep well, and feeling ‘wired but tired’ when we do eventually try to go to bed. Cortisol has a very specific rhythm it should move through during the day in order for us to feel optimally healthy; roughly around sunrise or just before waking, cortisol is at its highest point it’ll be throughout the day, and it stays high for about 30 minutes. This is all to encourage us to get up and out in the morning. For optimum vitality, this is when we should be waking up and exposing our eyes safely to natural sunlight. Doing this helps re-set the body clock, and means our circadian rhythms or ‘sleep-wake cycle’ will be on point too.

Throughout the day, cortisol gradually decreases, until it drops right down at night. When cortisol is at its lowest point at night, melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’) is secreted, which prepares the body for a good night’s rest, as well as supplying beneficial antioxidants to help repair wear-and-tear to the body and brain caused by everyday activities. A perfect cortisol rhythm starts high and ends low, but due to issues like disrupted blood sugar, working late at night, staying up with bright lights on in the home, sleeping in, not getting enough sunlight at the right time, and eating the wrong foods at the wrong time, many of us have disrupted cortisol. If your cortisol rhythms are disrupted, you may find it difficult to get up in the morning and go to sleep at night, experience low energy throughout the day, sugar cravings, increased abdominal fat, and increased inflammation. [8]

How Cortisol Affects Growth Hormone

Growth hormone is important for repairing and rebuilding damaged tissue, supporting recovery from exercise, maintaining healthy muscle mass, preventing sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting) and injury, as well as regulating body composition and fluid balance. The biggest ‘pulse’ of growth hormone is released during sleep between the hours of 10pm and 2am, so it’s important that you are indeed sleeping at this time. High cortisol levels at night – perhaps due to working late, exercising late, having a heated argument late at night, or eating refined and processed food at night – can delay the onset of melatonin secretion and severely disrupt the release of growth hormone at this vital time. [9] If you want to benefit from your workouts and heal injuries faster, it’s important to ensure you wind down in the evening, reduce stressors, and get to bed around 10pm. 

So, you’ve so far learned that cortisol isn’t completely bad for us, but that we need it at the right time, in the right amounts. Having a good amount of cortisol in the morning supports wakefulness and the desire to get up and out, but that elevated cortisol in the evening can cause sleep issues and a lower secretion of growth hormone. You’ve also learned that high cortisol levels can lead to high blood pressure, cravings and abdominal weight gain, whilst over-taxing the adrenals can lead to burnout, whereby the body is unable to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol resulting in fatigue, body aches, low blood pressure and low mood levels. If this all sounds complicated, the good news is that you can use biohacking to reduce high cortisol, rebalance your cortisol rhythms, and feel less stressed and more energised.

Let’s explore 5 ways to biohack your cortisol:

1. Balance Your Circadian Rhythms & Cortisol Rhythms

One of the most natural and effective ways to reduce stress, improve sleep and balance cortisol is to improve your circadian rhythms or ‘body clock’. Remember that cortisol peaks just before we wake up [10], and remains high for around 30 minutes after. To support this natural rhythm, get up early and at the same time each morning. Soon after waking, head outside into natural sunlight and move your body, which also signals to your brain that it’s daytime and time to be awake and alert. Use the first half of the day to tackle tasks that may require more focus or physical activity, or that could be stressful. In the afternoon, focus on tasks that are more creative and relaxing, or that don’t require as much brain power. In the evening, turn down the lights and either avoid screens or wear blue light blocking glasses, which will help further decrease cortisol, and support the secretion of melatonin. It takes around 12 hours for the sleep hormone melatonin to re-set, so getting out into natural sunlight in the morning is a great way to ensure that 12 hours later, your body is ready to secrete melatonin and gradually prepare you for a restful night’s sleep. 


2. Use Breathwork To Reduce High Cortisol Levels

The way we breathe can either activate the stress response or the ‘relaxation response’. When cortisol is secreted due to a perceived threat, our breathing often becomes rapid and shallow, which then sends a signal to the vagus nerve (a long nerve running from the brainstem to the gut, connecting with many vital organs along the way) that there’s something to feel stressed about. Common daily activities like scrolling on social media, reading and replying to emails and watching videos on phone screens can cause shallow breathing, breath-holding and even an increase in carbon dioxide levels, leading to further stress and anxiety. [11]. An effective breathing technique to quickly reduce stress is the Physiological Sigh, popularised by podcaster, neuroscientist and professor Andrew Huberman. The practice helps rebalance oxygen levels and reduces stress, to try it:

  • Inhale deeply through your nose
  • Inhale again, so that you’ve inhaled twice
  • Purse your lips, and blow all of the air out of your mouth, contracting the diaphragm a little at the end of the breath
  • Repeat twice more

3. The Best Adaptogens For Stress

Adaptogens are compounds that help the body deal with stress. Many foods high in antioxidants such as dark leafy greens and berries act as natural adaptogens, but specific plant compounds and supplements can help reduce high cortisol levels, aid in resilience to stressful situations, [12] and support recovery from chronic stress. Some of the best adaptogens and supplements for stress include:

Ashwagandha: One of the most well known adaptogens, ashwagandha has been used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to help the body deal with stress. Ashwagandha can also lower blood sugar, reduce cortisol levels, reduce symptoms of depression, reduce inflammation, and improve brain function and memory. You’ll find our high quality Ashwagandha HERE.

Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms have also been used for thousands of years throughout the world for their powerful benefits, and they’re especially useful for reducing stress, improving resilience and supporting the immune system, which can be damaged by chronically elevated cortisol. Our mushroom complex includes reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane and shiitake, which can all greatly enhance physical and mental wellbeing. Find them HERE.

CALM: The LLS calm capsules contain a blend of relaxing ingredients to help reduce stress and improve sleep. Blended with magnesium, ashwagandha, l-theanine, chamomile extract, 5 HTP, lemon balm, lavender, and valerian, these capsules can lower your stress levels and ensure your sleep is optimised. Remember that good quality sleep is essential for stress recovery, as well as supporting the secretion of growth hormone to help with recovery and repair of the body’s tissues. Reclaim your calm HERE.

4. Choose The Right Foods To Reduce Stress & Balance Cortisol

The nutrition world is full of confounding opinions, but when it comes to stress and adrenal health, expert Alan Christianson’s book The Adrenal Reset Diet reveals how choosing the right foods at the right time can help rebalance cortisol and support recovery from burnout. Eating plenty of fats and proteins in the morning supports more stable blood glucose throughout the day, as well as preventing natural cortisol levels in the morning from dipping too soon. Adding protein powder, collagen peptides or MCT oil to a smoothie in the morning is a great way to support your protein needs. In the evening, whole food carbohydrates support optimal sleep and a reduction in cortisol, so be sure to include foods like sweet potato, carrots and other root vegetables, well cooked brown rice or wholegrain fermented sourdough bread with your evening meal. Other foods Alan Christianson recommends for reducing high cortisol levels include cacao nibs, beetroot, basil, tulsi, celery, and foods high in omega 3 fats. It’s also important to supplement with magnesium if you’re experiencing excess stress, as magnesium levels can be depleted via high cortisol levels, and we need this mineral to help us deal with stress. You’ll find our magnesium bisglycinate HERE.

5. Engage With Your Community To Reduce Stress

Last but not least, perhaps one of the most simple biohacks is to spend more time with the people you love. Research shows that daily experiences of loneliness are related to higher levels of cortisol both in the morning and evening [13], and that feeling connected to a community can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Studies on stress and resilience show that those who report being more socially supported are more resilient to stress [14], and that the higher oxytocin levels released through human touch through hugging, receiving a massage, or simply holding hands are associated with lower cortisol and stress levels too. [15]

So, now you know that you don’t have to be a billionaire biohacker to start biohacking your cortisol for less stress, more energy and better sleep. Use the advice and adaptogens above to help you navigate your way back to feeling your best, so you can start loving life.


  • [1] Mayo Clinic. Chronic Stress Puts Your Health At Risk. [Online]. Mayo Clinic. Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2023].
  • [2] Gila Lyons. (2022). What is cortisol?. [Online]. Endocrine Web. Last Updated: 2022. Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2023].
  • [3] van der Valk ES, Savas M, van Rossum EFC. Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? Curr Obes Rep. 2018 Jun;7(2):193-203. doi: 10.1007/s13679-018-0306-y. PMID: 29663153; PMCID: PMC5958156.
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  • [6] Mayo Clinic. Adrenal Fatigue: what causes it?. [Online]. Mayo Clinic. Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2023].
  • [7] Mayo Clinic. (.). Adrenal Fatigue: what causes it?. [Online]. Mayo Clinic. Last Updated: .. Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2023].
  • [8] University of Massachusetts Boston. (2012). Relationship between Hair Cortisol and Perceived Chronic Stress in a Diverse Sample. [Online]. Online Library Wiley. Last Updated: October 2012. Available at: [Accessed 31 January 2023].
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  • [11] Savulich, G., Hezemans, F.H., van Ghesel Grothe, S. et al.Acute anxiety and autonomic arousal induced by CO2 inhalation impairs prefrontal executive functions in healthy humans. Transl Psychiatry 9, 296 (2019).
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