Luckily I rarely suffer from insomnia, however a couple of weeks ago I found myself wide awake until the early hours of the morning.
I tossed, turned, fidgeted, turned the pillow to the cool side, opened the window, closed the window, but nothing seemed to be helping. Eventually I realised what was going on and was able to use my knowledge of the nervous system to drift off.
Earlier that day I’d been in a bit of stressful situation, nothing too traumatic or dangerous, but enough to make my heart race. When our brains perceive a stressful situation, which could be anything from being chased by a tiger to having to give a presentation at work, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as our ‘fight or flight’ response. This brings about a number of changes within the body so we are able to run away quickly or stand and fight our ground. Sometimes the body can stay in this state of high alert even after the stress has gone away, meaning sleep that night may be disturbed, difficult or even non-existent.
To turn off our sympathetic nervous system we need to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system (also called ‘rest and digest’) reverses the changes made by the fight or flight response, returns the bodily functions to normal and hopefully allows us to get some rest!
One way to activate this ‘rest and digest’ response is to massage the vagus nerve, but unfortunately this isn’t always convenient when you’re lying awake in the middle of the night. Another method of stimulating the vagus nerve is to take some deep slow breaths.
And so that is exactly what I did! I took in a big deep breath, allowing my belly to expand so that the diaphragm was engaged, and then slowly let the breath out, I probably did this for a couple of minutes and then I don’t remember much after that, so I must have drifted off quite quickly.
If you find you are having trouble sleeping give the deep breathing technique a try, however if insomnia becomes a common occurrence then I would recommend getting yourself booked in for some regular massage sessions.