Easy vagus nerve exercises for kids to help them sleep
Most parents know that getting a good night’s sleep is essential for their kids’ healthy growth and development. But did you know there are strategies your kids can try to improve their sleep?
There’s a nerve in the body called the vagus nerve. And stimulating this nerve can help your kids relax and sleep better.
The vagus nerve is responsible for sending signals to the brain to control your heart rate and digestion. And recent studies have shown that stimulating this nerve can improve sleep quality.
Below, you’ll learn a few strategies to help kids stimulate their vagus nerve so they can get a better night’s rest.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the body’s longest cranial nerve. It consists of two nerves – one on the right side of the body and one on the left. Each nerve runs from the brain to the gut and passes through the heart, lungs, and intestinal organs.
The vagus nerve is in charge of many essential functions, including…
- heart rate
- immune response
- reflexes like sneezing, coughing, and swallowing
The vagus nerve also plays a role in mood regulation and helping you return to a state of calm after a stressful event.
The vagus nerve doesn’t always operate as it should, however. Age and chronic stress are common factors that can damage the nerve, make it less effective, and lead to symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Age shouldn’t factor into the performance of children’s vagus nerves. But stress could be an issue.
In any case, stimulating the vagus nerve can help kids feel calmer and more relaxed. In turn, this can help kids get better sleep without resorting to medications or other sleep aids.
Vagus nerve exercises for kids
If kids can’t relax, their bodies get stuck in “fight or flight” mode, which can make them feel emotionally and physically drained.
Plus, overexposure to the stress hormone, cortisol, can negatively affect kids’ health. Too much cortisol can lead to digestive issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, anxiety, depression, and sleep issues.
So, to reduce cortisol levels and help kids relax, they can try the following strategies to stimulate their vagus nerve.
Have your child lie flat in a relaxed position on their stomach or back. Have your child inhale slowly through their nose for a count of six. Their breath should stem from their belly, not their chest. Hold for a count of four. Then, exhale slowly through the mouth for a count of eight. (Exhales should be longer than inhales.) And hold for a count of four. Repeat this exercise as needed until your child feels more relaxed.
To ensure your child is belly-breathing, have them place one hand on their chest and the other hand on their abdomen. When inhaling and exhaling, the hand on your child’s abdomen should rise and fall. The hand on their chest should remain still.
Singing, changing, or gargling
The vagus nerve connects to the body’s vocal cords and the muscles at the back of the throat. So a good way to stimulate your child’s vagus nerve through vibration is to have them sing, chant, or gargle.
Performing these activities is also fun and a good way to boost your child’s mood. Your child can hum or sing while they do their homework or watch TV. You can hum or sing songs together before bedtime to relax and bond with your child. And your child can practice gargling after they brush their teeth.
The vagus nerve plays a vital role in moderating your heart rate. So another way your child can stimulate their vagus nerve is through exercise. This could be anything from a brisk walk to yoga or tai chi. The key is to have your child perform an activity that elevates their heart rate.
Try not to have your child exercise too rigorously too close to bedtime, though, as this could make it hard for them to fall asleep. Your child should have sufficient time after exercising to wind down before bed.
Diet rich in Omega-3 and probiotics
Additional roles the vagus nerve plays are in digestion and gut health. Have your child eat a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. This can support the health of your child’s vagus nerve. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, grass-fed animal products, and certain vegetables and seeds like chia and flax.
Probiotics also promote a healthy gut and support the vagus nerve. So including foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, and sauerkraut in your child’s diet can improve the health of their vagus nerve as well.
Exposure to cold slows the body down and stimulates the vagus nerve. Kids can splash cold water on their faces as they get ready for bed – for example, before or after they brush their teeth. Or, for a more intense experience, they can take a quick cold shower. A cold shower may be too much for young kids, however. But teenagers can try it.
Finally, having your child give or receive hugs can stimulate their vagus nerve. This is because the hormone oxytocin is released when you hug, and oxytocin reduces stress. So by giving or receiving a hug or cuddle, your child can relax and feel calmer.
There are several different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve in kids. If your child struggles with stress or anxiety, including some of these strategies in their daily routine can help them get better sleep and improve their health.
Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website: MeghnaDassani.com.
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