We all want to know how to sleep better, don’t we? And while there are all sorts of tips and strategies out there for doing so, today we’re going to tell you about a different sleep aid you might not have tried: vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). In particular, we’ll cover what the vagus nerve does, how VNS can improve sleep, and even how to try vagus nerve stimulation at home.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
We’ll begin by answering the question: what is the vagus nerve? The vagus nerve is a long cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem down to your abdomen. It’s responsible for many important functions, including heart rate, digestion, and even how you feel when you’re stressed out.
In moments of stress or anxiety, your body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. This is a survival mechanism that dates back to our days as hunter-gatherers; when we were faced with danger, our bodies would flood with adrenaline and cortisol, preparing us to either fight the threat or flee from it.
Nowadays, we don’t tend to face life-or-death situations regularly. But our bodies still go into fight-or-flight mode when we’re faced with modern-day stressors like deadlines, traffic, or financial troubles. And when this happens, it can take a toll on our health.
That’s where the vagus nerve comes in. It’s part of what’s known as the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for “rest and digest” functions like heart rate and digestion. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it signals the brain to release calming neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin. This has a calming effect on the body, helping to counteract the effects of stress and anxiety.
How Can Vagus Nerve Stimulation Help You Sleep?
Now that we know how the vagus nerve helps to regulate stress and anxiety, it should come as no surprise that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can also be an effective sleep aid.
When you’re stressed out, your body is in a state of high alert. This makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. VNS can help to counteract this by calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation. It can also help to increase the production of slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation, HRV, and Sleep
It’s also worth exploring the connection between vagus nerve stimulation, heart rate variability (HRV), and sleep. HRV is a measure of how your heart rate changes in response to different stimuli. A high HRV indicates that your body can adapt well to stressors, while a low HRV indicates that your body is more vulnerable to the effects of stress.
There’s some evidence to suggest that VNS can increase HRV, which means it could potentially help you sleep better by making your body more resilient to stress.
In addition to being a great sleep aid, VNS has also been shown to be effective for treating conditions like depression, migraines, and even fibromyalgia.
Let’s explore some of these and other impressive benefits of VNS next.
Other Benefits of VNS
We mentioned that VNS could be an effective treatment for conditions like depression, migraines, and fibromyalgia. But that’s not all. In many studies, VNS has also been shown to:
- Improve heart health
- Boost cognitive function
- Reduce inflammation
- Decrease pain perception
As you can see, there are many potential benefits of vagus nerve stimulation.
If you’re interested in trying VNS for yourself, there are several ways to do so. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular methods next.
Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation at Home
There are a few different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. One of the most popular methods is to use a device called a Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulator (tVNS).
tVNS devices, including vagus nerve stimulating headphones, stimulate the vagus nerve through the ear. That way, you can get the benefits of VNS without having to undergo surgery or other invasive measures.
When you wear these headphones that plug into a special device that connects to your phone, the headphones provide a gentle vibration in the ear, targeting the vagus nerve. By stimulating the vagus nerve, its tone improves. And the more toned the vagus nerve is, the better it can do its job of regulating stress and anxiety levels.
Other Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
Along with vagus nerve stimulating headphones, there are also some other ways to try vagus nerve stimulation at home.
Here are a few other methods of VNS:
- Cold exposure: One way to stimulate the vagus nerve is by exposing your body to cold temperatures. This can be done by taking a cold shower or going for a swim in colder water. Cold plunges are becoming increasingly popular as a way to stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Breathing exercises: Another way to stimulate the vagus nerve is by doing breathing exercises. One of the most well-known breathing exercises is called box breathing. This involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and then holding your breath for four counts. This can be repeated for several minutes at a time, and you can even visualize building a box, line by line and breath by breath, as you try it.
- Deep breathing: Simply taking deep breaths can also stimulate the vagus nerve, no full-on breathing exercises are required. By taking slow, deep breaths, you can help to increase vagal tone and reduce stress levels.
- Yoga: Yoga is a great way to reduce stress and improve vagal tone. Certain yoga poses, such as those that involve inverting the body or stimulating the neck and throat area, are particularly effective for this purpose.
- Chanting: Chanting is a practice that has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and well-being. By chanting, you can help create vibrations that stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce stress levels.
The Sleep Aid That Will Finally Give You a Good Night’s Rest
There you have it! You’re now familiar with the sleep aid that will finally give you a good night’s rest. These are just a few of the many ways you can try vagus nerve stimulation at home and finally figure out how to sleep better.
If you’re looking for a natural way to improve sleep, reduce stress, and promote relaxation, vagus nerve stimulation may be right for you. Give it a try today and see how it can help you get the best night’s sleep of your life!