It’s ‘Vagus’, baby!
Recently, I had a surprising realization about my sleeping pattern.
I realized that I find it difficult to fall asleep unless I am extremely exhausted or someone else is also sleeping in the same room.
Usually, I am alone and I don’t fall asleep until I feel exhausted from reading or watching mindless videos. I also experimented with listening to an audiobook while sleeping. It does help me in falling asleep which is still better than other options.
On rare occasions, if someone else is sleeping in my room (mostly a visiting friend), then the fear of being judged and coming across as a person who wastes his time on the phone at night usually drives me to sleep.
But, the bottom line is that in day-to-day life, I usually need some stimulation to fall asleep.
I know this does not sound very mature (and healthy!) as I am supposed to be a well-functioning adult who can regulate his emotions and actions. And of course, sleep!!
But, I recently discovered something that has helped me fall asleep without any need for stimulation.
Can you guess what it is?
No, it is not any meditation or mindful breathing activity.:P
It is a 10-15 minute application of an innocent ice pack on the back and sides of my neck.
I discovered this practice as a result of falling into a rabbit hole of the Vagus nerve and its relation with trauma and self-sabotaging behaviors.
The Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body and it connects your brain to your organs such as your heart, lungs, and stomach. It’s responsible for controlling various bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion.
If you experience stress on a prolonged basis (or people suffering from PTSD and trauma), it can inhibit the activity of the Vagus nerve. This can lead to an increased heart rate, breathing difficulties, and anxiety.
On the other hand, if it is functioning properly or stimulated within a limit, it activates your parasympathetic nervous system and promotes deep rest and relaxation.
Icing the Vagus nerve for minutes near your neck and shoulders is a gentle way to stimulate it and feel relaxed. Some people have also mentioned the chest region near the heart as a potential area of icing to stimulate it but I have not tried it yet.
Only after I started doing this, I realized the amount of heaviness and tightness I tend to hold near my shoulders and neck. And icing the region immediately brings a heavenly relief. It makes it easier for me to relax and fall asleep.
I discovered that there was a viral TikTok about this a couple of years ago and had I been a GenZ, I might have been able to learn this earlier. 😀
But anyway, this brings me to 3 related things I want to share this week:
This article discusses the “bottom-down” practices like breathwork (and maybe icing the Vagus nerve also comes under this?!) to regulate the nervous system and manage stress. This is different from the popular “top-down” tools like meditation which are difficult to use during periods of intense stress.
The author says that we have 80% of afferent neurons that travel from the body to the brain as opposed to 20% of efferent neurons that run in the opposite direction from the brain to the body.
This is why “bottom-down” practices are 4X times more effective to alter our blood chemistry and shift our internal state.
This video explains how procrastination, self-sabotage, and fleeing from health can be connected to stored survival stress.
When I heard the term “fleeing from health”, I immediately felt seen. I struggle with maintaining healthy routines and often tend to oscillate between the extremes of the 5 am routine and 12-noon breakfasts.
Watching this video felt like finally someone gave a new perspective and reason behind self-sabotage and procrastination instead of talking about the lack of clear purpose and goals.
I realized it might not be completely my fault and laziness (to some extent it is, yes! I am not saying I am not responsible).
It just helped me have a much-needed, compassionate self-talk. It does not come easily to me and sometimes, that’s all you need!
Last but not least, if you are curious to know more about the vagus nerve, here is a tweet thread by Sahil Bloom that explains it. He also links to useful articles to further explore the topic. To continue generating text, please provide a starting prompt or topic.
That’s all from me this week, folks!
Until next time