Best Sleeping Position for Vagus Nerve
We all know how important sleep is for our overall health and well-being. But did you know that the position you sleep in can actually have an impact on your nervous system?
Recent research has shown that sleeping in certain positions can help to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for regulating many of the body’s functions, including sleep, heart rate, digestion, and immunity.
So if you’re looking to improve your vagus nerve function, read on for a complete guide to the best sleep positions for a better vagus nerve!
What role does the vagus nerve play in sleep?
The vagus nerve plays a critical role in sleep by helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping the body relax – according to Polyvagal Theory. This network of fibers is key to creating a sense of relaxation that can prime the body for a better night’s rest. To further activate this system, one can
- stimulate the vagus nerve for better sleep directly by placing an ice pack on the neck or chest.
- Research has also shown that athletes can experience a boost in relaxation after cold-water immersion.
- Vagus nerve stimulation devices, which require surgery to implant, have also been used to reduce seizures and improve sleep in certain people.
However we have a simple technique to improve our vagus nerve. Sleeping position!
What is the best sleep position for better vagus nerve function?
The best sleep position for better vagus nerve function is to sleep on your right side. It is as simple as that! This is because the majority of the vagus nerve runs alongside the right side of your neck, thus activating it by simply sleeping on that side. Studies have shown that sleeping on the right side increases heart rate variability and vagal activation more than being on other sides, while sleeping on the back led to the lowest vagus activation.
This is because when the right side is chosen as the sleeping position, the vagus nerve is stimulated and causes a parasympathetic response which is the opposite of the fight or flight response. This can help to quiet the vagus nerve at night and reduce arrhythmias which can be caused by the stimulating of the vagus nerve.
Other techniques to stimulate the vagus nerve, such as placing an ice pack on your chest, may also provide temporary relief of sleep problems but may carry other risks such as frostbite.
Ultimately, getting a good night sleep is essential for the proper functioning of the vagus nerve and achieving lucid dreams. Sleeping on the right side can also lead to a variety of health benefits such as
- decreased stress,
- improved mood,
- improved cardiovascular health,
- better digestion,
- improved immune function,
- and improved overall wellbeing.
Use a pillow for side sleeping
Using a pillow is a must to find the best position for sleeping with a stimulated vagus nerve. The body should be properly aligned when lying on the side, so the horizontal line running through the nose should be in line with the rest of the body. Extra pillows can help to support the body and enhance the health benefits of sleeping on the side. Using three pillows can help to ensure proper alignment and support.
For example, the first pillow should go under the head to ensure it doesn’t tilt down, the second pillow should go under the waist to keep the stomach from curving down, and the third pillow should go between the legs to keep the spine in a neutral position. This position will keep the body symmetrical and prevent the lower spine from twisting, which can lead to lower back pain.
What is the worst position for sleeping with a stimulated vagus nerve?
Studies have demonstrated that sleeping on your back leads to the lowest vagal modulation. This suggests that the supine position may not be beneficial for people looking for vagal stimulation during the night as it can lead to decreased vagal activity.
Miyamoto S, Fujita M, Sekiguchi H, et al. Effects of posture on cardiac autonomic nervous activity in patients with congestive heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001 Jun, 37 (7) 1788–1793.https://doi.org/10.1016/S0735-1097(01)01249-9
The study found that in the right lateral decubitus position, the vagal modulation was the highest and the sympathetic modulation was the lowest among the different recumbent positions in the control group.
If you have a stimulated vagus nerve and are looking for breathing exercises to promote better sleep,
- the 4-7-8 technique is a great place to start. This technique involves inhaling for a count of four, holding your breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling slowly for a count of eight. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and some people combine this method with yoga, mindfulness, or meditation to further relax their mind and body.
- When the 478 sleep trick doesn’t work for you, another breathing exercise that can help to promote better sleep if you have a stimulated vagus nerve is diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing involves breathing deeply and slowly from the abdomen. To practice this technique, start by seating upright with your back straight. Then, inhale slowly through your nose to a count of four, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of five. Gradually slow your breathing down until it reaches about six breaths per minute. Experiment with different rates to find a pace that works for you. Aim to practice this for at least 10 minutes consecutively every day.
- Resonant Breathing can also be beneficial in promoting better sleep with a stimulated vagus nerve. This exercise involves inhaling for four seconds, then holding your breath to a count of seven, and then exhaling for eight seconds. This exercise can help to reduce stress levels and can be practiced while sitting or lying in bed. Aim to practice this exercise for at least 10 minutes daily.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is sometimes referred to as an “information superhighway” because it carries information between the brain and all the body’s internal organs. This nerve starts in the brain stem and branches out in multiple directions to the neck and torso, where it is responsible for actions such as carrying sensory information from the skin of the ear and controlling the muscles used to swallow and speak, while also influencing the immune system. It is made up of thousands of fibers and its afferent and efferent pathways comprise about 80% and 20%, respectively. It is responsible for helping us rest, digest and calm down, and scientists are currently examining how the nerve can affect mental health disorders.
How can breathing techniques help stimulate the vagus nerve?
Breathing techniques can help stimulate the vagus nerve by stimulating the baroreceptors that are found in the heart and neck. These specialized neurons detect blood pressure and tell the brain to activate the vagus nerve, which can lower blood pressure and heart rate and activate the rest-and-digest nervous activity.
Studies have also suggested that certain types of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Om chanting, can stimulate the vagus nerve indirectly. Finally, yogic slow breathing, such as ujjayi breathing, has been shown to increase the sensitivity of baroreceptors and vagal activation, thus lowering blood pressure.
What conditions can be improved by stimulating the vagus nerve?
Conditions that can be improved by stimulating the Vagus Nerve include: depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic heart failure, hypertension, and inflammatory diseases. You should balance your autonomous system – climb the Polyvagal ladder – in order to live a full life.
How can yoga help with vagus nerve stimulation?
Yoga may help with vagus nerve stimulation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Limited studies suggest a link between yoga and increased parasympathetic activity and improved mood and anxiety compared to walking exercises. Additionally, yoga and Pilates focus heavily on the breath, which can help with awareness of one’s breathing and practicing belly breathing that can aid in stimulating the vagus nerve.
Certain types of meditation, such as
- loving-kindness meditation,
- mindfulness meditation,
- Om chanting,
- Yoga nidra for better sleep
may indirectly increase vagal tone through attentive breathing, which is thought to directly stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Additional clinical examples of how to directly stimulate the Vagus Nerve to improve these conditions include adding seafood to the diet, building social connections, chewing gum, coughing or contracting the stomach muscles, eating more fiber, engaging the larynx, exercising regularly, fasting intermittently, finding an Acupuncturist, getting direct sunlight, incorporating prayer every day, laughing often, learning to sleep in cold temperatures, meditating daily, practicing Tai Chi, and having massages often.
What are the benefits of having a healthy vagus nerve?
A higher vagal tone index can reduce the risk of major diseases and provide relief from chronic pain. Additionally, having a healthy vagus nerve can reduce inflammation and the risk of adverse outcomes of COVID-19, especially in older individuals. Studies have also shown that increasing seafood intake can help to stimulate the Vagus Nerve, leading to increased heart rate variability and a lower heart rate.
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