UNDERSTANDING THE VAGUS NERVE
TRANSFORMATIVE REST ALL STARTS BY STRENGTHENING YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
There’s an image floating around on the internet of a cartoon woman who goes through her day with all of her problems swirling in her feet; then, when she lies down horizontally, they swim up to her mind like the goop in a lava lamp and she’s too fraught with worry to fall asleep. It can certainly feel that way sometimes—once it’s lights out, our mind can shift into overdrive, our problems arise that we were too busy to think about, and in turn we feel undue stress and anxiety instead of zen. The good news is through nutrition and rituals, you can rebuild a new internal landscape and change the way you fall and stay asleep. It all begins by strengthening the body’s main communication center: the nervous system.
Kickstart the Body’s Natural Relaxation State
The nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that carry messages; they begin in the brain, then make their way down the spinal cord, dispersing all the way down to your toes. There are two parts: Central Nervous System (everything above your shoulders) and the Peripheral Nervous System (everything below). Within the PNS, there is the Autonomic Nervous System, and within this system resides one long sinewy nerve called the vagus nerve, named as it wanders through the body like a vagabond. Make no mistake, though; this nerve is intentional with its duties. Emerging research shows that it may be the link to dismantle chronic inflammation, bolster memory, and act as the kickstarter to the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s also the two-way superhighway between the gut and the brain. With these systems in constant communication, food and digestion intimately impact what was once believed only to be the brain’s business: mood, subconscious thoughts, decision-making, and even creative potential.
Nourish Your Nervous System
A weakened nervous system is hypersensitive to the lack of nature, and to the overuse and abuse of caffeine, stimulants, and mental chatter. It also employs the fight-or-flight response, which secretes cortisol (known as the stress hormone). Energetically, the nervous system acts like a protector from danger— if you place your hand on a hot stove, for example, it will send a warning by releasing cortisol to get you to act fast. Over time, though, misuse of cortisol spikes (i.e, making everything an emergency) can create a metabolic breakdown. This is when premature aging takes over, which can bring with it inflammation, thinning skin, and weight gain centralized around your organs and abdominals. This kind of poorly-timed stress can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your internal body clock and hinder deep sleep. One way to combat these issues is by strengthening the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The PNS is the antithesis of this fight-or-flight response. Just look at regular meditators, who often exude a celestial, child-like radiance; their soothed nervous system reverses signs of aging.
While meditation and breathwork are profound tools when it comes to regulating your stress response, stimulating the vagus nerve, and improving sleep quality, there are also phytonutrients and bacteria that can help strengthen the gut-brain connection.
PROBIOTICS | When it comes to the state of your hormones, digestion, mood, weight, and energy, it’s important to first evaluate your gut. Inside this 30 foot tube of your GI tract, you’ll find the trillions of microbes that play an important role in your digestion, and are intimately connected to your endocrine system, immunity, and cognitive health. Because many mood-related hormones live within your gut—up to 95% of your serotonin resides there, in fact—when your digestion or your bacterial ecology is “off,” this deeply affects your mindset and can wreak havoc on your sleep quality. Investing in a high quality probiotic with a diverse number of strains will help nurture and balance your hormones, and reduce anxiety and stress through the vagus nerve.
ROSEMARY | Rosemary was used for centuries by Greeks and Romans as a symbol of remembrance. In modern times, compelling studies have shown the fragrance alone has potential to stimulate cognitive function, memory, and focus. In the evenings, you’ll find us spritzing Osea’s Vagus Nerve Spray on our pillows for that very reason; to enhance our sleep quality and stimulate the brain for deep rest. As we sleep, it’s not that our brains simply “shut off”; in fact, if we are truly in regenerative, restorative mode, our subconscious mind and nervous system shift into active brainwave states like theta and delta. This is the time when our neurons organize the day’s stimuli and can synthesize emotions. A plant that heightens memory and focus and can help to coax out these powerful brainwave states and help us wake up feeling profoundly refreshed.
MAGNESIUM | Magnesium is a wonder mineral in which 80% of Americans are deficient. It helps convert the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates and proteins) into bioavailable energy. It also helps promote elimination by increasing water in the intestines. This relaxes the muscles (including those in the G.I. tract) and initiates peristalsis (the wave-like motion your intestines use to move matter out of the body). Plus, magnesium has been shown to naturally lower cortisol levels, helping relieve toxic stress symptoms and promotes transformative sleep. Minerals like magnesium and zinc have also been closely linked to healthy vagal function.