Naturalistic stress and cortisol response to awakening: Adaptation to seafaring
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Study of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis has been critical to advancing our understanding of human adaptation to stress. The cortisol response to awakening (CRA) is a potentially useful measure for understanding group and individual differences in HPA axis regulation. In this study, the CRA was examined in the context of a naturalistic stressor--a 6-week voyage of work and study aboard an oceangoing ship, including both experienced and novice sailors. Thirty-one subjects provided weekday and weekend baseline CRA data onshore prior to boarding, followed by three CRAs at sea and one shore leave CRA. Subjective measures of sleep, stress and control were also collected. Results suggest that novice sailors' cortisol response to awakening was elevated at sea relative to both a shoreside weekend and a shore leave during the voyage, but the most striking elevation was found during a workday onshore. Inexperienced students' profiles changed differently over the course of the voyage from those of professional crew. CRAs were not affected by sleep variables and were not predicted by subjective ratings. These data support the value of the cortisol response to awakening as a neuroendocrine marker of HPA regulatory responses to a naturalistic stressor, influenced by changes in work and living environment, and perhaps prior experience with the stressor.
author list (cited authors)
Liberzon, J., Abelson, J. L., King, A., & Liberzon, I.