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Stress. 2004 Mar;7(1):29-37.

The awakening cortisol response: methodological issues and significance.

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  • 1Psychophysiology and Stress Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, London, UK.


The awakening cortisol response (ACR) is a discrete and distinctive part of the cortisol circadian cycle. In healthy adults salivary free cortisol concentrations increase by between 50 and 160% in the first 30 min immediately post-awakening (approximate average increase of 9 nmol/l, range 4-15 nmol/l, estimated to be equivalent to about three secretory episodes). However there are no agreed norms for the absolute concentrations of free cortisol in saliva either immediately post-awakening (range of 4.7-18.5 nmol/l) or 30 min post-awakening (range of 8.6-21.9 nmol/l). This review explores reasons for these discrepancies in normative data including confounding factors such as gender, age, awakening time, light and participant adherence. Although the physiological role of the ACR has not been clearly defined evidence is discussed that suggests it is under a distinct regulatory influence, different from the rest of the diurnal cortisol secretory cycle. Despite the difficulties associated with its measurement a range of studies have demonstrated an association between the ACR and psychosocial variables, stress and health. However it remains unclear whether positive affect and good health are consistently associated with larger or smaller awakening responses. It is early days in the search for the role and significance of the ACR. Its putative role in the regulation of physiological function across the day (e.g. the immune system) and its sensitivity to psychosocial variables make it a prime candidate as an intermediary linking mind and health.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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