Can A Vagus Nerve Massage Really Help You Sleep? A Doctor Unpacks The Claim

Getting enough sleep sounds easy enough, but we've also all experienced the struggle to obtain our nightly dose of shut-eye. Whether you're prone to reading in bed or can't help but click "next" on your latest comfort shows, sleep deprivation can take hold before you know it. As a result, those who regularly burn the midnight oil may encounter everything from headaches and heightened anxiety the following day, per The Sleep Foundation.

Still, creating a healthy sleep schedule isn't exactly second nature when you're used to dysregulated sleep. So, what can be done to encourage a good night's rest quickly and painlessly? Beyond implementing good bedtime habits like evening meditation, a massage is one way to unwind at the end of the day. One form of massage, in particular — the vagus nerve massage — can supposedly help to encourage restful sleep.

To learn more about the benefits of vagus nerve massage, Glam reached out exclusively to Dr. LS Wang, an internationally published, award-winning, double-fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with more than 18 years of clinical experience. As the senior consultant orthopedic surgeon and medical director of Arete Orthopaedic Clinic, Wang told us everything there is to know about vagus nerve stimulation.

What is the vagus nerve?

While the vagus nerve has become something of a buzzword in the wellness sphere, its exact role in the body isn't common knowledge. In an effort to better understand how the vagus nerve works, Glam turned to Dr. LS Wang. "The vagus nerve is a key part of your parasympathetic 'rest and digest' nervous system," Dr. Wang told Glam in our exclusive chat. "It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can impact your ability to relax and sleep."

So, there you have it: The vagus nerve is involved in myriad functions throughout the body, from elevated stress responses to mucus and saliva production (via the Cleveland Clinic). What's more, understanding the anatomy of the vagus nerve can help you understand its multifaceted nature. As the body's longest-running cranial nerve, the vagus nerve starts in the brain and ends in the large intestine, affecting numerous systems in the body. And with more attention being directed to the importance of the brain-gut connection, as exemplified by research published by PLOS One, the vagus nerve may be a potential key player in improving one's sleep quality.

Vagus nerve massage

It doesn't take much to understand the relationship between touch and relaxation. As fans of massage therapy can likely attest, the right masseuse can help you fall asleep right at their table. Furthermore, even eyelash extension enthusiasts are known to enjoy a good "lash nap" every now and then, per Lashes by Tandi. But how does the vagus nerve massage help lull you to sleep, exactly?

"A vagus nerve massage, sometimes referred to as vagus nerve stimulation, can potentially help improve sleep by activating the body's relaxation response," Dr. LS Wang exclusively told Glam. "By gently massaging certain areas of the body, such as the carotid sinus located on your neck, you can stimulate the vagus nerve and induce a state of calm." Want to try vagus nerve massage for yourself? To subtly stimulate your vagus nerve at home, try rubbing the base and sides of your neck and shoulders for a start, according to Health News. You can also hum, sing, or chant, as vocal vibrations may have a positive effect on the vagus nerve as well (via the Cleveland Clinic). There are many different approaches to vagus nerve massage, and you can even seek out a professional masseuse for more targeted vagal treatment.

Benefits of a vagus nerve massage

Of course, there's more to the vagus nerve than meets the eye. As you might imagine, engaging in a relaxing vagus nerve massage can help support your overall well-being. Considering the vagus nerve's role in regulating parasympathetic nervous responses and gut motility, as explained by research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a healthy vagus nerve could quite possibly lead to a healthier you.

According to Dr. LS Wang, there are several other pros to regular vagus nerve stimulation. "Benefits of a vagus nerve massage can include a reduction in stress and anxiety, which are often culprits in sleep disturbances," Dr. Wang told Glam exclusively. "It can also help to lower heart rate and blood pressure, promoting a state of relaxation conducive to sleep." Considering stress and anxiety are some of the biggest culprits behind insomnia, per the Baylor College of Medicine, vagus nerve massages may be just the ticket to eliminating poor sleep. At the very least, stimulating the vagus nerve in a calming way can promote feelings of relaxation (via Allied Services) — an important part of your sleep routine.

How the vagus nerve impacts sleep

Of course, the vagus nerve's main claim to fame right now is its ability to encourage good sleep. "Moreover, research has suggested that vagus nerve stimulation can improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep," Dr. LS Wang exclusively tells Glam. "However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential sleep-promoting benefits of vagus nerve massage." One study, published in the medical journal Brain Sciences, found that vagus nerve stimulation was capable of safely treating primary insomnia.

But before you partake in any form of vagus nerve massage, it's important to heed Dr. Wang's words of wisdom on the matter. "As always, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new health practice," he explains. "They can provide guidance based on your specific needs and circumstances." And if you still can't seem to fall asleep after massaging your vagus nerve, it's worth speaking to a sleep specialist or trusted medical professional for further help.