How to Lower Cortisol: 14 Natural, Expert-Approved Methods

Lower your cortisol by getting enough sleep, reducing your stress levels, exercising, eating a balanced diet, and doing breathing exercises.
Updated
2024-02-17
15 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Rise Science Scientific Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.

How to Lower Cortisol Levels 

  • Lower cortisol levels fast by doing breathing exercises, spending time with a pet, and getting out in nature. 
  • Getting enough sleep, syncing up with your circadian rhythm, exercising, and eating a balanced diet can keep cortisol in check long term. 
  • The RISE app can help you lower your cortisol levels by making it easier to get enough sleep each night and sync up with your circadian rhythm. 

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It’s produced in your adrenal glands and your body uses it to increase your heart rate when in flight-or-fight mode or to wake you up in the morning.

High cortisol levels are sometimes needed. But if your cortisol levels are always high from chronic stress and sleep loss, you’ll be upping your odds of everything from insomnia to weight gain, depression to heart attacks.

If that list alone is enough to hike your stress levels, read on to find out how to lower your cortisol levels naturally and how the RISE app can help.

A Sleep Doctor's Advice

We asked our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, for the best way to lower cortisol levels.

“It can feel impossible to keep your days stress-free, so try focusing on your nights. Getting enough sleep will help to keep your cortisol levels in check. Give yourself plenty of time in bed to get enough shut-eye.”

1. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation is stressful for your body and can lead to high cortisol levels. And it doesn’t take long for a lack of sleep to take its toll. 

A 2021 review found partial sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in next-day cortisol levels. And only getting 5.5 hours of sleep can lead to an increase in cortisol levels the next evening, which may keep you awake and lead to even higher cortisol levels. 

To break the cycle, aim to meet your sleep need each night. Your sleep need is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need a night. 

Sleep need looks different for everyone. We looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up and found the median was eight hours. But 48% of our users need eight hours of more sleep a night, and some need a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. 

Sleep need looks different for everyone. We looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up and found the median was eight hours. But 48% of our users need eight hours of more sleep a night, and some need a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes.
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need.

RISE uses a year’s worth of your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your exact sleep need. 

Once you know this, you can work on keeping your sleep debt low, which is the amount of sleep you owe your body. RISE can work out your sleep debt and keep track of it as you pay it back. Aim to keep it under five hours to feel your best.

Heads-up: Speak to your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist if you think a sleep disorder is stopping you from getting enough sleep. Disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea can lead to sleep loss and high cortisol levels. 

We dive into the connection between cortisol and sleep here and look here at what causes high cortisol levels in the first place.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need and here to view their sleep debt.

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2. Reduce Your Stress Levels

You can’t avoid every stressor in life, but being chronically stressed can lead to high cortisol levels. Try relaxation and mindfulness exercises like tai chi, yoga nidra or NSDR, scheduling “me time” and time with friends, and doing a relaxing hobby to lower stress. 

You may need to make bigger lifestyle changes for your overall health and well-being, like cutting back on work responsibilities, hiring more childcare, or speaking with a therapist. 

Stress keeping you up? We’ve covered how to sleep with anxiety here and what to do when you're too stressed to sleep here.

3. Make Time for a Hobby

Making time for a hobby can help with stress management, help you connect with others, and keep you fit, all of which can help to keep cortisol under control. 

Not sure which hobby to choose? Try getting out in the garden or picking up an instrument. 

One study found gardening led to a 12% drop in cortisol levels in veterans in the space of three weeks. And another study found music classes significantly lowered cortisol levels among students. 

4. Try Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help lower your stress levels and they can help you drift off and get enough sleep — a win-win. 

A 2021 paper found deep breathing and guided imagery helped to reduce cortisol levels. And a 2019 review found diaphragmatic breathing also helped to lower levels of the stress hormone. 

We’ve covered how to do breathing exercises here. And RISE has in-app audio guides to walk you through exercises like diaphragmatic breathing. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.

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5. Do a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Stress keeping you up? You’re not alone. RISE users say stress and anxiety are the biggest barriers stopping them from getting enough sleep. 

A calming bedtime routine is one way to lower cortisol levels at night to help you relax before bed and sleep better. 

Spend the hour or so before bedtime doing relaxing activities like reading, yoga, or listening to calming music.

And you can try adding a warm shower or bath to your bedtime routine. They’re not only relaxing, but warm water has the added benefit of helping your body temperature drop before sleep, which helps you drift off.

A 2023 study found that even just immersing your feet in warm water is enough to decrease your core body temperature to aid sleep.

6. Do a Brain Dump

If a busy mind is keeping you up at night, try doing a brain dump. This can involve writing about all of your worries, your to-do list, or journaling about your day. 

Research shows writing your to-do list for tomorrow can help you fall asleep faster than writing about tasks you’ve already completed. 

Use RISE’s brain dump feature and the app will remind you of everything you write down the next day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Brain Dump Habit notification

7. Eat a Balanced Healthy Diet

Stress is just one factor behind high cortisol. What you eat also plays a part. 

Research shows diets high in refined sugars, salt, animal proteins, and fats, and low in fruits and veggies can mess with your cortisol levels.

On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet — which includes fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and fish — has been linked with lower cortisol levels. 

And research from 2019 on dark chocolate and 2022 research on green tea found both can help to keep cortisol in check.

As well as what you eat, think about when you eat, as this can affect your sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can cause digestive issues that keep you awake. Try finishing up your final meal two to three hours before bed

8. Consider Supplements

Some supplements may help lower cortisol. 

  • A 2022 study found some evidence probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics can decrease cortisol levels. 
  • One study found taking fish oil supplements for three weeks lowered cortisol and helped participants feel less anxious (although this study was on alcoholics who had given up drinking). 
  • A 2019 study found taking ashwagandha for 60 days helped reduce cortisol levels. 
  • CBD supplements may help reduce anxiety and help those with anxiety disorders. 

9. Exercise (the Right Amount at the Right Times)

A 2022 paper found “physical activity was an effective strategy for lowering cortisol levels.” Exercise can also help you fall asleep at night. 

But high-intensity exercise can lead to a higher release of cortisol, so you don’t want to be doing HIIT classes and weight lifting every day. Make sure you’re working out, but also scheduling rest days and easier sessions, too. 

And be sure to schedule your workouts for earlier in the day. Intense exercise within an hour of bedtime can keep you awake, which won’t do your cortisol levels any favors. 

We’ve covered the best time to work out here. And RISE can tell you when to avoid late workouts. 

RISE app screenshot showing you when to do your workouts
The RISE app can tell you when to avoid late workouts.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

10. Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is your roughly 24-hour body clock. It controls your sleep-wake cycle, when you produce certain hormones, and when your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day. 

You’ll be out of sync with it if: 

  • You work night shifts or rotating shifts 
  • You ignore your chronotype (perhaps you’re a night owl waking up early
  • You have social jetlag, or an irregular sleep schedule throughout the week (which about 87% of us do) 

Being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can lead to higher cortisol levels. One study found those who sleep during the day (night shift workers) have increased cortisol levels compared to those who sleep at night. 

If you have control over your schedule, get in sync by: 

  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule (this can also help you get enough sleep overall. RISE users with consistent sleep-wake times have lower sleep debt than those with inconsistent times). 
  • Eat your meals during the day and at regular times. 
  • Get light first thing in the morning (which resets your circadian rhythm) and avoid it in the evening (which can push your sleep schedule back).

RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can schedule your day to match. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen. 

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11. Get a Pet

If you need an excuse to get a pet, this is it. Studies show interacting with a dog can lower your cortisol levels, and pets can boost happiness by providing support and companionship. 

Even just spending an hour with a dog can help. A 2023 study found 60 minutes with a dog was enough to reduce cortisol levels in stressed-out college students. 

Heads-up: Allowing your pet to share your bed may lead to sleep problems, and therefore higher cortisol levels. A 2023 study found owning a dog was associated with higher odds of having trouble sleeping. So consider making your pet sleep in a different room from you. 

12. Cut Yourself Off from Caffeine 12 Hours Before Bed

A cup of coffee is a great way to wake up in the morning, but the caffeine can easily keep you up at night. Plus, research shows caffeine can elevate cortisol secretion, especially if you drink it when stressed or before exercise. 

Keep your caffeine habit in check, especially when in stressful situations, and stop drinking it 12 hours before bedtime to reduce the chances of it cutting into your sleep time. 

It can be hard to remember when to cut yourself off from caffeine. But RISE can tell you when to have your final coffee each day — which is one of the most popular features among users.

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit caffeine
The RISE app can tell you when to have your last coffee each day.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

13. Get Out in Nature

Getting out in nature can help you relax, get some exercise, and spend time in sunlight. Plus, it’s been proven to lower cortisol levels. 

A 2019 study found spending 20 to 30 minutes in nature at least three times a week was most effective at reducing cortisol levels. 

14. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the set of daily behaviors that influence your sleep. If you have good sleep hygiene, you’ll fall asleep faster, wake up less often in the middle of the night, and have an easier time getting enough sleep to keep your cortisol levels low. 

Good sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Getting out in sunlight first thing in the morning  
  • Avoid light before bed 
  • Avoiding caffeine, intense exercise, alcohol, and large meals too close to bedtime
  • Making sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet 

We turned to one of our sleep advisors, Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, who’s the co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University, for his thoughts. 

“Getting enough sleep should be a number one priority for everyone, but especially if you think you’ve got high cortisol levels. Focus on getting out in natural light and keeping a consistent sleep schedule to make getting enough sleep easier.” 

RISE can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day to help you fall and stay asleep. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

What Do High Cortisol Levels Lead to?

High cortisol levels can lead to a whole host of physical and mental health conditions. 

When cortisol is high, you may experience: 

And because high levels of cortisol can lead to sleep loss, you’ll also be at risk of all the ill effects of sleep deprivation, which include everything from type 2 diabetes to heart disease. 

High cortisol levels can be a side effect of medical conditions like Cushing’s syndrome or a tumor on your pituitary gland. Speak to a doctor if you think a health condition is behind your high cortisol levels. 

Heads-up: You don’t want low cortisol all of the time. Cortisol is a natural part of your body’s stress response, and you want higher hormone levels in the morning to help you wake up. 

Cortisol also plays a role in suppressing inflammation, regulating your blood sugar levels and immune system, and controlling your metabolism — so it’s not always the enemy.

Luckily, getting enough sleep, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and keeping your stress in check will help rebalance your overall cortisol levels. 

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Lower Your Cortisol Levels Quickly and Naturally 

High cortisol levels aren’t always a bad thing. The stress hormone helps you wake up in the morning and gives you a zap of energy when you need to escape danger. 

But with our often stressful and sleep-deprived lives, many of us have chronically high cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain, sleep problems, and serious health issues. 

Whether you’re trying to lower your cortisol levels to get better sleep, for weight loss, or for your overall health and wellness, there are science-backed ways to make it happen. 

Lower your cortisol by getting enough sleep, syncing up with your circadian rhythm, and working on stress reduction by doing breathing exercises, exercising, getting out in nature, and practicing a hobby. 

The RISE app can help by working out how much sleep you need a night, predicting your circadian rhythm each day, and guiding you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to make meeting your sleep need easier. 

And you can start balancing your cortisol levels fast — 80% of RISE users get more sleep within five days. 

Summary FAQs

How can I lower my cortisol levels quickly?

Lower your cortisol levels quickly by getting enough sleep, reducing your stress levels, making time for a hobby, doing breathing exercises, cutting down on caffeine, eating a balanced diet, spending time with a pet, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and getting out in nature.

How can I lower my cortisol levels naturally?

Lower your cortisol levels naturally by getting enough sleep, reducing your stress levels, making time for a hobby, doing breathing exercises, cutting down on caffeine, eating a balanced diet, spending time with a pet, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and getting out in nature.

How can I lower cortisol levels and lose weight?

You can lower cortisol levels and lose weight by reducing your stress, getting enough sleep, living in sync with your circadian rhythm, exercising (but not too much or too late at night), and improving your sleep hygiene.

How to lower cortisol levels female?

Lower your cortisol levels as a female by getting enough sleep, reducing your stress levels, making time for a hobby, doing breathing exercises, cutting down on caffeine, eating a balanced diet, spending time with a pet, getting in sync with your circadian rhythm, and getting out in nature.

What supplements lower cortisol levels?

Supplements that lower cortisol levels include probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, fish oil, and ashwagandha.

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