7 Ways to Support the Vagus Nerve and Improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

soothing vagus nerve

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that activates the parasympathetic nervous system and increases levels of oxytocin and the calming neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Supporting the vagus nerve and thereby improving parasympathetic tone promotes relaxation, sleep, digestion, and healing.

Activating the parasympathetic nervous system dials down the sympathetic nervous system or fight-or-flight response. In that way, the vagus nerve acts as a built-in “stress-reset button.”

Heart rate variability (HRV)

An easy way to assess parasympathetic tone is to measure heart rate variability (HRV), which is the degree to which the intervals between heartbeats vary from heartbeat to heartbeat. You can measure HRV with a Bluetooth heart rate monitor combined with an app for your smartphone.

Higher heart rate variability (i.e. a less regular heartbeat) is associated with better digestion, reduced inflammation, increased emotional resilience, and a longer lifespan. High HRV means your parasympathetic nervous system is responding and adapting to your breath and other stimuli and is a sign that your nervous system is in a state of resilience.

Lower heart rate variability (reduced vagal tone), on the other hand, is associated with negative mood and inflammation.

Heart rate variability.

Devices that stimulate the vagus nerve stimulation have been approved as a novel treatment for depression and migraines.

👉 Tip: The cervix is innervated by the vagus nerve, which is why the cervix is involved in achieving orgasm and possibly why some women experience anxiety from an IUD. (The statement about IUDs is only my theory at this stage. I welcome your comments.)

Because higher vagal tone boosts oxytocin and feelings of altruism, some researchers refer to the vagus nerve as the love nerve or compassion nerve. According to Dr Dacher Keltner, vagus activation is the source of the warm, expansive feeling in our chests when we experience (or even think about) human kindness.

7 ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve heart rate variability

You can calm your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system by sending signals of calm and safety.

Finally, new research has suggested that oxytocin may be helpful for weight loss and maintaining healthy bones.

20 thoughts on “7 Ways to Support the Vagus Nerve and Improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV)”

  1. I couldn’t keep any food down my entire labor with my first daughter. My midwife recommended gargling in the days and weeks before labor this time to activate the vagus nerve. Do you think this could be related to the cervix being innervated by the vagus nerve? Do you think that your suggestions could help with this too?

  2. Hi I’ve been reading your book, it’s great. Could you please explain to me what happens when you stop breastfeeding can this put you in an oestrogen deficiency? Like stopping the pill the falling off cliff feeling?
    I am 44 and since I stopped breastfeeding a year ago I was put on a 200mcg patch and now after reading your book I feel this may not be correct for me
    I’m convinced I need to titrate back to a 25 patch esp as my lining was 16.8 on a scan.
    Keep up with the utrogestan which I love.
    I take magnesium and zinc.
    I know you can’t give individual advice but I wish I could find info regarding breastfeeding and what it does to you later on in life

    • For as long as breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, estrogen stays low. It should then climb again when ovulation and cycles resume. Were you cycling before you put on the high-dose estrogen patch?
      See Chapter 3 in my book about the importance of cycling while you can. you may need to drop back the estrogen dose so you can ovulate.

  3. I have noticed that doing pelvic floor exercises lying in bed at night leads to a rush of relaxation that helps me get to sleep faster! Now I’m wondering if I’m stimulating my vagus nerve..

  4. What about poo-phoria. Does taking a dump simulate the vagus nerve and how about singing and gargling or is that just crap (pardon the pun)

  5. Where exactly is the vagus nerve in the cranium? Could it be affected by a head injury for example? Thanks for the information Lara.

  6. Hi Lara.
    Your articles are really interesting. I would love to see references to back up the information and allow me to research even further into the great stuff I’m learning from you. Thanks

    • Many of the statements are referenced. Click on the links to go through to the PubMed citation.
      Also, see the reference section in my book Period Repair Manual.

  7. I suffered with endometriosis the entire time I had a period, 11.11 years- 42 years when I then had a hysterectomy.
    The world opened up once I accepted the new chapter in my life and I was no longer in constant paid 3 weeks a month in one way or another.
    Now 53 years old, there is a new cross to bear. Weight gain and the near impossible task of losing weight and staying as young as I can. I use Divigel and progesterone. Any advice to resetting the metabolism?
    I started following you as s means to communicate with my teen daughters about their bodies. I am teaching them to follow good nutrition, sleep habits and stay active. Listening to their bodies is also something we are constantly discussing. It seems Mom needs help now.
    Thank you and good luck,
    Richmond, VA

    • Is it actual progesterone that you take (as in, Prometrium)? or a progestin.
      And do you know if you have insulin resistance or not?

  8. Can you expand on Heart Rate Variability? How to know when it’s healthy or not? I use the AVA bracelet to monitor my cycle and the only variable I still cannot get my head around is HRV. Thanks!

    • Heart rate variability is healthy and a good thing. It means the heart rate slows with exhalation, as the vagus nerve kicks in.

  9. Hi Dr Lara,
    Another inspiring article. Thank you for providing information to help us feel better.
    Add Yerba Mate’ to the bitter list.

  10. Great article, doing my research in the body mind connection, including the polyvagal theory. Good to have practical advice 🙂 thank you.

  11. Great summary Lara. Getting the parasympathetic nervous system humming is so important with our stressed patients.

  12. Very interesting article. Might want to fix this: The vagus is so effective for mood that vagal nerve stimulation has ben ( … BEEN ….) approved as a novel treatment for depression. 🙂


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