It's no secret that getting a good night's sleep is important for your health. But it can be hard to get the rest you need when you have a lot of things on your mind. Sleep deprivation can lead to a host of problems, including depression, anxiety, and weight gain.
But here's some good news: Helping your child sleep better may actually improve their mood and behavior.
It's not just about quantity — quality sleep is also important. If your child is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you might consider stimulating their Vagus Nerve. Vagus Nerve Stimulation can increase melatonin production, which helps promote sleepiness.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus Nerve is a nerve that runs from your brainstem to your abdomen and controls the functions of many organs, including the heart, lungs, and digestive system. It's part of the parasympathetic nervous system — the "rest and digest" part that helps us relax, repair, and regenerate when we're not being active.
The Vagus Nerve is a major component of our nervous system, known as the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). It's essentially responsible for regulating our bodies' internal organs and helps us maintain a healthy heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure.
The Vagus Nerve is also responsible for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which is responsible for slowing down our heart rate and respiration. This helps us to relax and allows us to fall asleep more easily.
How does Vagus Nerve stimulation work?
The vagus nerve is a major player in our sleep cycle, which is why it's so important to keep it healthy and happy.
This major nerve connects your brain to your heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines. When it's working properly, it helps you feel relaxed, calm, and "in the zone." When it's not, it can cause anxiety, depression, and other problems.
The best way to keep the vagus nerve healthy is by stimulating it!
Activities that stimulate the Vagus Nerve
Yoga or meditation, singing or humming, and massage are all activities that stimulate the Vagus Nerve. You can do these activities with your child or model them for your baby. Before you know it, they will be joining in and everyone will be getting better sleep!
Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are great ways to relax the body and mind. They can also help you unwind, reduce stress and lower your heart rate. The result is that you’re likely to fall asleep faster and sleep better throughout the night.
Try 3-5 breathing. Take a big deep breath in for 3 seconds, then breathe out for 5 seconds. Breathe from your diaphragm. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system and can calm anxiety and stress. Teach your child this and practice some counting!
One way to support the brain's development is through singing. Singing activates the vagus nerve, which has a direct effect on the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus — areas of the brain that are involved in emotional regulation and stress response.
If you sing a song that you love, your breathing changes, and your vagus nerve gets stimulated. This can result in a reduction of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The vagal tone is increased by singing or humming a familiar tune which results in a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
To stimulate your child’s Vagus Nerve with massage:
1. Massage their belly with long strokes up and down from their belly button to their sternum (breastbone).
2. Massage them from the back of their neck down to their tailbone on both sides of their spine (both left and right) using long strokes up and down so that there are no breaks in between sections of massaging their body with long strokes up and down using your fingers or palms