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Parasympathetic for Sleep

by Jodi Cohen

Your parasympathetic nervous system helps regulate your circadian rhythms to promote restful sleep.  As you may know, the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) serves as an internal “gear shift” that helps regulate when you eat and sleep, and even how you feel.

Your parasympathetic nervous system coordinates via chemical and hormonal messages with the other “gear shifts” or biological clocks in your body to help regulate physical, mental, and behavioral functions like your appetite, blood pressure, hormone levels, alertness and reaction time, and most importantly, sleep rhythms. You can read more about the role of the parasympathetic nervous system here.

A nighttime increase in parasympathetic activity correlates with restful sleep.  Conversely, a nighttime increase in sympathetic activity has been associated with poor sleep and corresponding conditions like nocturnal hypoglycemia, elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines, and depressive symptoms, according to research.

 

Heart Rate Variability and Sleep

Your nervous system is believed to influence sleep patterns through its control over your heart rate.  As you may recall, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and regulated by your vagus nerve, which exerts inhibitory control and decelerates your heart rate.  This is crucial in rest and recovery as well as in the sleep-wakefulness organization.

“A key role in the physiology of sleep is played by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), whose regulation modulates cardiovascular functions during sleep onset and the transition to different sleep stages,” according to a Review article published in Frontiers in Physiology.

Parasympathetic activity, which regulates cardiovascular function, can be measured through heart rate variability (HRV) to help assess changes of autonomic cardiac modulation during sleep onset and different sleep stages. The “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system raises your heart rate so you can pump more blood to our muscles and flee from danger, while the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system slows down your heart rate so you can rest, repair, recover and sleep.

Control over your heart rate fluctuates between sympathetic and parasympathetic predominance, mainly according to the transition to different sleep stages (wakefulness, NREM and REM).  Research correlates “sympathetic predominance and a blunted parasympathetic control” with sleep disturbances. Research has found that heart rate variability reportedly decreases during non-REM (rapid eye movement) and increases during REM sleep (light sleep)

Additional research associated sympathetic predominance with a vagal withdrawal during the (REM) stage of sleep, while the opposite trend is observed during non-REM sleep. In normal sleepers, vagal activity indexed by HRV increases during sleep, peaks prior to awakening in the morning, and quickly decreases after waking.

Typically when you are under physical or mental stress, parasympathetic activity decreases and sympathetic activity increases. As a result, heart rate increases and HRV decreases. There is evidence of HRV impairment in insomnia patients.

What’s more, insomnia is often correlated with predominant sympathetic modulation not only during wake but also across sleep stages, often exhibiting a constant sympathetic over-activity at night.

For example, chemical blocking of the parasympathetic nervous system in laboratory animals for 14 days altered the circadian rhythms of blood pressure and heart rate, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure during daylight and impaired sleep function at night.

Additional research associated psychological stress with decreased levels of parasympathetic modulation during sleep, which in turn has been associated with increased waking during sleep and less deep sleep. Higher levels of sympathetic activity during sleep were associated with poorer sleep quality and greater sleep disruptions.  The study concluded that stress-related changes in heart rate variability during sleep may also be associated with chronic stressors and increased risk for mortality.

 

3 Essential Oils to Activate Parasympathetic and Support Sleep

Parasympathetic™

Your heart rate variability is controlled through a delicate balance between the two states of your nervous system.  Your “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system raises your heart rate so you can pump more blood to your muscles and flee from danger, while the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system slows down our heart rate so you can rest repair and recover. The vagus nerve serves as temperate gauge to control your heart rate.  In the parasympathetic state, the vagus nerve releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine prolonging the time between heartbeats, thus slowing your pulse.  Several clients have experienced the slowing of successive heartbeats, known as heart rate variability (HRV) and measured a dramatic improvement after using the Parasympathetic™ blend. To help improve your heart health, topically apply the Parasympathetic™ oil on the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) 3 times daily. Read more about essential oils for the pineal gland HERE.

Circadian Rhythm™

Melatonin is the key hormone to help us fall asleep.  It is typically released by the pineal gland in response to darkness, but modern toxins and artificial lighting can impede this release.  Circadian Rhythm™ blend can help trigger the natural release of melatonin, both when inhaled or topically applied.  Your nose is a direct gateway to the brain and the pineal gland. To stimulate the olfactory passage to activate pineal gland, you can either inhale Circadian Rhythm™ oil or place a drop in specific spots around the head – on the very top of the head, the very back of the head, on the skin above the ears.  The pineal gland is located in the exact center of the brain, so topically applying oils directly around the brain allows transdermal access.

Sleep™

Sleep™ helps support relaxation of the mind and body to support restful sleep.  This blend is exceptionally gentle and supportive for children.  Both Sleep™ and  Circadian Rhythm™ blends contain Lavender, one of the top oils to treat insomnia. A study published in Sage Journal found that “lavender oil displays similar therapeutic effects as melatonin.” Additional research on The effect of aromatherapy with lavender on serum melatonin levels  found that “blood melatonin levels significantly increased in the total population after the intervention with aromatherapy.”  Read more about Lavender essential oil for sleep HERE.

 

Featured Oils

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References:

 

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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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