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The secret to better sleep is lying in your freezer. Yes, your freezer. Icing your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in your body, may help you calm down and fall asleep more easily. And all you need is an ice pack—or just a bag of frozen peas.
As the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system, your vagus nerve plays a key role in your immune system, digestion, and heart rate. It’s also directly connected to your brain. Doctors often use vagus nerve stimulators to help treat patients with depression or epilepsy. A recent study from Boston University found that “toning” your vagus nerve through yoga and meditation led to lower stress levels.
OK, so clearly the vagus nerve is important. But can icing your vagus nerve really prevent insomnia?
The reasoning behind icing your vagus nerve
In a TikTok that currently has over 3 million views (and nearly 700,000 likes), user @heyfrankiesimmons explains how icing her vagus nerve led to better sleep. In the TikTok, she says she previously struggled to fall back asleep after waking up at 4 a.m. with anxiety. Breathwork practices, energy work, and tea drinking didn’t lull her back to sleep. However, once she started putting an ice pack on the center of her chest for at least 15 minutes, she fell back asleep faster—and more easily. Icing her vagus nerve allowed her to calm down and beat back her anxiety-ridden insomnia. And while many TikTok wellness trends are shaky in legitimacy, there may be some truth to this one.
A study conducted in 2018 found that the application of a cold thermode on participants’ necks led to a reduction in stress levels. “Cold stimulation in the neck area may have triggered physiological mechanisms known to have an impact in noninvasive [vagus nerve stimulations] VNS,” the researchers note in the study. While more research needs to be done on the impact of a cold compress on a person’s stress levels, the researchers note the results of this initial study are promising.
What happened when I iced my vagus nerve
As a chronically sleep-deprived person, I tend to engage in a variety of unhealthy sleep behaviors. From revenge bedtime procrastination to sleeping a mere four hours a night (I know, I know), it’s safe to say that I’m not getting the best shut-eye. Recently, I’ve had more issues falling asleep. I do my skincare routine, scroll through TikTok (again, I know, I know), read a few pages of a book, and, yet, I’m still wide awake. While I’m not typically an anxious person, my anxious thoughts tend to cascade through my head right before bedtime.
So I decided to try this hack out for myself. I was curious to see if it could truly calm me down and encourage better sleep. While I didn’t have an ice pack handy, I did have a bag of frozen mixed berries. I plopped the bag on my upper chest and spent about 20 minutes lying there, taking deep breaths. (Full disclosure: I did spend some of this time scrolling through TikTok.) When I took the bag of frozen fruit off my chest, I felt calmer—and went to sleep easily that night.
Was it just a placebo effect? Maybe. Will I be doing it it again? Definitely.