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The physiological stress response is larger in the morning than evening

13 December 2018

When’s the best time of day to give someone bad news? First thing in the morning or early evening?

Yes, if it’s in the morning, they have longer to work out what to do about it, but you might be better off plumping for the evening because according to a new study, published open-access in Neuropsychopharmacology, they’re likely to suffer less of a physiological stress response at this time. 

If a threat – whether physical or psychological – doesn’t quickly vanish, communication between a trio of brain regions – the hypothalamus, the pituitary glands and the adrenal cortex (known collectively as the HPA axis) – causes, among other things, an increase in levels of the hormone cortisol, which triggers the release of glucose, for energy, into the bloodstream. This stress response effectively provides our muscles with extra fuel to fight or flee. 

However, there’s also a daily pattern to our baseline levels of cortisol production – healthy people typically experience a spike around waking, and a steady decrease in levels throughout the day. 

Read more in a new post by Emma Young on our Research Digest blog.

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