The Importance of Social Interactions 

The study “Day-to-day experience-cortisol dynamics” was done by Northwestern University’s Emma K. Adam, and looked into the social, physiological, and emotional structure of an older adult’s everyday schedule. The results showed that when these elder individuals go to bed feeling sad, alone, or even stressed out, that their systems contained heightened levels of a stress hormone called cortisol the following morning.

When an older adult cultivates the chronic need for elevated levels of cortisol, it can then link to the development of obesity, depression, and varied other health disorders. According to Adam, something is considered chronic when the body cues the need for a particular homrone or enzyme, in this case cortisol, on an everyday basis in order to deal with or level out the feelings of sadness or loneliness.

“You’ve gone to bed with loneliness, sadness, feelings of being overwhelmed, then along comes a boost of hormones in the morning to give you the energy you need to meet the demands of the day,” said Adam, who is the assistant professor of education and social policy, as well as a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. Adam continues by explaining that a boosted amount of cortisol in the morning can help the adult who went to sleep with negative feelings, by giving them the emotional stamina to face their day and seek out the opportunities to experience positive social interactions; this helps to regulate their hormone levels.

Adam’s study was based on information from the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study (CHASRS) which took place at the University of Chicago, cultivating the statistics from 156 older adults who were born between 1935 and 1952, lived in Cook County, and were from a varied range of socioeconomic classes. Throughout the research the cortisol levels were measured for three consecutive days from each individual, three times a day from a small sample of their saliva. The individuals were also asked to write journal entries each of the three nights, keeping track of their feelings before they went to bed and how they felt the next morning. Researchers tested the levels of their cortisol and compared them to how they felt in the entries, to see if the amount of the stress hormone correlated with them feeling more positive the next morning. According to their findings, the cortisol levels were always high when the individual first awoke in the morning, elevated within the first 30 minutes of being awake, and would then decline to the lowest by bedtime.

Additionally, Adam noted that individuals who experienced anger, frustration, or stress throughout the day showed to have heightenend levels of cortisol before going to bed. “High levels of cortisol in the evening are a kind of biological signature of a bad day,” Adam commented.

This study was the first of its kind, and opened the doors of cortisol levels affecting negative and positive emotions, showcasing the influence the stress hormone can have on an older adult’s day-to-day experiences. In short, an individual’s daily experiences can influence their body’s levels of stress hormones, which results in their stress hormone levels influencing their next day’s emotions and experiences. “Cortisol responds to and interacts with our daily experiences in subtle and important ways,” Adam said conclusively within the report. The study proficiently evidenced that cortisol can play a large role in influencing one’s daily experiences, helping to level out any negative emotions or feelings. Those in the study to have lower levels of morning cortisol in their system were also experiencing greater amounts of weariness throughout the day, which may help explain why some individuals suffer from chronic fatigue.