How I Improved my Sleep without Adjusting my Cortisol Levels

How I Improved my Sleep without Adjusting my Cortisol Levels

Within our adrenal insufficiency disease community, we can fall into a trap of blaming everything on inappropriate cortisol coverage. Not hungry? Too little cortisol. Inappropriate hunger? Too much cortisol. Extremely weepy? Too little cortisol. Irrational anger? Too much cortisol. Can’t sleep? Could be too little or too much cortisol. Unfathomable fatigue? This could also be way too much cortisol, or too little cortisol.


What an easy excuse for all of life’s difficulties, am I right? But what happens when the answer is not simply, “Adjust your cortisol levels”? What do you do then?

I have been struggling with my sleep schedule.

neon sign with the text "gnight" above a bed
Oh how I longed to fall asleep at a reasonable hour!

It seemed like no matter what I did, I could not fall asleep at a decent time. I would view my “best” hours to be from about 4pm – midnight. My brain would suddenly flip “on” and I would be very productive. This is great if you are living in isolation. It is less desirable when you have to function in the real world that holds “normal working hours.”

My late nights would make for unpleasant mornings. I will say that my mornings improved after we increased my early cortisol rates based off of data collected from a CGM. However, I was still not functional before 9AM. I am incredibly thankful for the understanding management at my job. They take no issue with me working a delayed schedule.

But I knew the issue resided with me staying up too late. However, I could not figure out how to force myself to go to bed earlier. I tried the limiting of screens before bed. No change. I would attempt to relax and unwind by doing simple tasks. Did not work.

Perhaps I would forever be a night owl?

Were my evening cortisol levels too high?

Feet on a very tall bridge
Ever get yourself in a position and think, “This is not necessarily where I want to be right now.”

Through living with this disease for over fifteen years, I understand how cortisol can affect the sleep schedule. Too much cortisol gives me insomnia. Too little cortisol also gives me insomnia, but it is a different type. I will attempt to describe it as I am wired and feel awful, and then I just pass out. It looks as if I am sleeping, but it is not a restorative sleep. I do not wake up rested. Although cortisol levels dip lower at night, they are never zero.

Were my evening cortisol levels too high? I did not believe that to be the case, as my rates drop pretty low. But perhaps with cortisol stacking and increasing my morning levels, I could ever so slightly reduce my evening levels?

Let us just say that experiment failed. Or, I guess the experiment succeeded as I realized quickly that was NOT the answer. I resumed my normal program and promised myself I would not manipulate my evening rates again.

Something had to change, and it was clearly not my cortisol replacement.

But what could it be?

An Unexpected Discovery

neon sign that reads "discovery"
I experienced a light bulb moment!

At the beginning of the decade (don’t I sound fancy?!), I completed a seven day no added sugar meal plan. I was not happy with how I was feeling, and I knew I needed to do something to “kick start” a hopefully healthier life-style. After all, I would like to remain Clearly Alive. It’s like it is my mantra or something.

While on that journey, I decided to try something else. I was going to challenge myself to eat no food after dinner. There would be no more 11pm snacks of chocolate chips and popcorn. No more mindlessly consuming half a bag of salty potato chips. A handful of marshmallows was now off limits.


Food is fuel.

gas station
Put fuel in. Get energy out.

I must admit that I felt incredibly silly once I realized that the solution was as simple as, “No late night snacks.” I even mentioned how my blood sugar stayed elevated late at night in my blog post detailing my conclusions from the CGM! And yet, I never thought to link the two together!

When I first shared this on my blog, I stated “Please ignore the levels late at night. I tend to snack late.”

Ideally, when you eat food, your blood sugar raises to an appropriate level and then drops back down. I like to view this a fuel for your body. No wonder I could not sleep! I was fueling it way too late at night!

Sometimes, my disease has absolutely nothing to do with my problem.

person holding a read jigsaw puzzle piece
Ah, the hunt for the ever elusive missing puzzle piece.

I have lived with the diagnosis of Addison’s disease for over half of my life. It has become such a part of me that I can find an “Addison’s Answer” for pretty much every ailment I face.

But sometimes, my Addison’s Disease has absolutely nothing to do with my problem.

Being unable to fall asleep because you eat too late at night? That is not an “Addison’s Disease” problem. Frankly, that is a “normal human being” problem. It requires the “normal human” fix of “AMBER! STOP EATING FOOD SO LATE!”

With as complicated as my life can be, I tend to celebrate the “normal human” problems. They make me feel, dare I say it, normal?

A healthy lifestyle empowers us to live Clearly Alive.

silhoutte photo of a man on a cliff as the sun is setting
Define what a Clearly Alive life means to YOU. And then LIVE IT.

Living that Clearly Alive life is so much more than “take your meds and don’t die!” I want my life to radiate vibrancy. Are people confused by my inexplicable joy? Have I cut out toxic individuals? Am I continuously fighting for the highest quality of life obtainable? Is my lifestyle healthy?

Am I Clearly Alive?

Balanced food consumption and a regular sleep schedule help contribute to a Clearly Alive life. The healthier my lifestyle is, the easier my Addison’s is to manage. I am incredibly excited that such a simple change led to me instantly feeling better.

I am sleeping better and waking up feeling better. This only adds to my excitement for this new year. I am declaring it now. 2020 is going to be amazing for me, y’all. With the start of grad school and my life stabilizing, I cannot wait to see what other adventures are ahead!

A Quick Note on the “No Added Sugar” Meal Plan

Here’s a little sneak peak.

For the next ten weeks on this blog, I plan on sharing with y’all my journey with a random “7-Day No-Added-Sugar Meal Plan That’s Actually Doable.” I completed this plan from 28 Dec 2019 – 3 Jan 2020, but I will only release one blog post a week.

This was another fun experiment that I ran on myself, and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures and conclusions. I am purposefully using this new year and new decade to take tangible actions in order to improve my overall health.

I shall remain Clearly Alive.

Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive