Do you often find yourself tossing and turning all hours of the night, struggling to get sufficient rest? If so, you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Association, an estimated 50 to 70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your sleep. This blog post will explore How to Sleep Better with Vagus Nerve Exercises
What is the Vagus Nerve?
This nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 cranial nerves. It travels from the brainstem all the way down to the abdomen and regulates many essential functions in the body, like your heart rate, digestion, immune system response, and more. The vagus nerve also plays a role in sleep by helping to regulate melatonin production.
How Does Vagus Nerve Stimulation Improve Sleep?
Vagus nerve stimulation (or VNS) has been used for years to treat a variety of conditions, including epilepsy and depression. More recently, research has shown that VNS can also be an effective treatment for insomnia.
For example, one study found that people who underwent VNS therapy slept significantly better than those who did not. Other studies have found that VNS can also help increase slow-wave sleep (the deepest stage of sleep) in some patients.
Why Are Vagal Maneuvers Effective?
There are a few different theories as to why VNS is effective for treating insomnia. One theory is that VNS helps increase levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleep.
Another theory is that VNS helps to reduce autonomic arousal (i.e., the fight-or-flight response), which can be triggered by stress and anxiety and lead to difficulty sleeping.
Here’s more on how this effect works:
The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that plays a part in controlling numerous involuntary functions like heart rate and digestion. The vagus nerve is the primary nerve that innervates the autonomic nervous system.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can help to reduce sympathetic activity (i.e., the fight-or-flight response) and increase parasympathetic activity (i.e., the rest-and-digest response). This shift in autonomic activity can help to promote relaxation and improve sleep.
Now that you know more about the vagus nerve and how it can help you sleep better, let’s explore some vagus nerve exercises that you can do at home.
How Can I Stimulate My Vagus Nerve?
There are several ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, but these are some of the most accessible for those looking to do so from home.
Cold exposure is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. This can be done by taking a cold shower or submerging yourself in cold water (i.e., ice bath). You might have heard of the cold plunge “trend.” While it has recently surged in popularity, this practice has actually been used for centuries to improve sleep, recovery, and overall health.
Gargling is another vagus nerve stimulator that can be done anywhere, at any time. It works by targeting the vagus nerve through the throat. To gargle effectively, take a mouthful of water and then tilt your head back and gargle for 15-30 seconds.
Yawning is another way to stimulate the vagus nerve. Unfortunately, it’s also a reflex that is often triggered by fatigue. So if you find yourself yawning frequently, it might be a sign that you need to get more sleep!
Humming can also help to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is because humming vibrates the vocal cords, which are located near the vagus nerve. In turn, the vagus nerve also gets vibrated or stimulated. To try it for yourself, take a deep breath in and then hum for 10-20 seconds.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves applying pressure to specific points on the body. This can be done with the fingers, elbows, or other objects. One study found that acupressure effectively reduced autonomic arousal and improved sleep quality.
Like acupressure, massage can also help to reduce autonomic arousal and improve sleep quality. Massage has been used for centuries as a way to promote relaxation and relieve stress. It can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of happiness and calm.
The Valsalva maneuver is a technique that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. It’s named after Antonio Maria Valsalva, an Italian physician who first described the technique in the early 1700s. The Valsalva maneuver is thought to work by stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing blood flow to the brain.
To do this exercise, simply take a deep breath in and plug your nose. Then, bear down as you breathe out of your mouth like you’re trying to fill a balloon. As a result, you should feel your heart rate slow and your blood pressure drop. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and then release. Be sure to wait at least one minute between each time you try this maneuver.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation Device
One of the most exciting innovations in health technology is the vagus nerve stimulation devices that can be used in the comfort of one’s home. Now, non-invasive options are more accessible than surgical implanted devices for those who want to experience the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation.
For example, the Xen device from Neuvana is a wearable vagus nerve stimulator that includes a set of vagus nerve-stimulating headphones and a handheld device that wirelessly syncs to your smartphone. Users can control their VNS sessions through an app on their phone and listen to soothing sounds while their vagus nerve is stimulated through the ear.
There are many vagus nerve exercises and activities that can be done to help improve sleep quality. These include cold exposure, gargling, yawning, humming, acupressure, massage, and the Valsalva maneuver. There are also vagus nerve stimulation devices that can be used in the comfort of one’s home. So, if you’re seeking a natural way to improve your sleep quality, consider trying one of these vagus nerve exercises!