This week, I’ve been learning about cortisol. Not really on purpose – I happened to see a segment of Bang goes the Theory which was about cortisol levels and jet lag, and then also saw The Science of the Young Ones, and they had a section about whether laughter can reduce stress levels – and they measured blood pressure and cortisol levels.
So here’s some stuff that I’ve learnt:
Cortisol is a stress hormone (I probably knew this before). It naturally rises and falls over the course of a 24 hour period, peaking shortly after you wake up and then falling throughout the day. – and helps wake you up and send you to sleep (this was what the bit about jet lag was studying)
Sleep deprivation and prolonged stress both provoke increases in the level of cortisol, and if you have high cortisol levels for a long time that’s associated with chronic stress, a suppressed immune system, and (unsurprisingly) greater susceptibility to illness. High cortisol levels bad.
Excitingly, in an experiment on a group of paramedics, an hour’s ‘laughter-yoga’ (I didn’t understand where the yoga came in … it seemed to be essentially doing daft things and laughing a lot) decreased the group’s cortisol levels pretty dramatically. Laughter literally is medicine – and without dodgy side effects!
I was feeling that earlier this week – I was invited by friends round to dinner at theirs on Tuesday, and there were 8 of us there and some of them were slightly hyper (hadn’t seen each other for ages, that sort of thing) and it was absolutely hysterical … and I’d been feeling a bit lonely / stressed out that day, and I definitely, definitely noticed feeling better after dinner.
The moral of the story is … cortisol levels are interesting, and important. Do your best to get a decent amount of sleep, and laugh a lot, and you’ll probably be less stressed and more healthy.