The cortisol response to awakening in relation to different challenge tests and a 12-hour cortisol rhythm

Life Sci. 1999;64(18):1653-60. doi: 10.1016/s0024-3205(99)00103-4.


Recent studies have shown that cortisol levels rapidly increase within the first 30 minutes after awakening. This response is rather robust over weeks or months and is altered by chronic stress and burnout. The present study investigated to what extent the cortisol response to awakening relates to responses following hCRH, ACTH(1-24), or psychosocial stress challenges in 22 healthy subjects. Furthermore, a 12-hour circadian cortisol profile was obtained to compare the morning response with cortisol levels obtained throughout the day. Results show that the morning cortisol response was of similar magnitude to that following injection of 1 microg/kg h-CRH or exposure to a brief psychosocial stressor (TSST). All of these were significantly smaller compared to maximal stimulation of the adrenal cortex by ACTH(1-24). Correlation analyses revealed that the morning cortisol response was closely related only to the cortisol response following 0.25 mg ACTH(1-24) (r=0.63, p=0.002). We conclude that the morning cortisol response to awakening can provide important information on the (re)activity of the HPA axis in addition to more 'traditional' methods like hCRH or Synacthen challenge tests. The sensitivity/capacity of the adrenal cortex appears to play a crucial role for the magnitude of cortisol responses observed after awakening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex / drug effects
  • Adrenal Cortex / metabolism
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / pharmacology
  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Sleep / drug effects*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Time Factors


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone