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Three Ways to Support Nervous System Health and Tap Into Peak Performance for Mind and Body

A healthy nervous system is foundational to health and performance. Resilience and flexibility in the nervous system support our ability to adapt to stress; a lack of which results in chronic stress that suppresses immune functions and impedes our ability to focus and engage in higher and more complex thinking. Additionally, regulating the nervous system can help to reduce inflammation in the body (by reducing chronic stress) and support health and an improved hormonal profile, which translates to increased levels of energy and a healthy libido to boot. 

As the resident “NeuroArkitect” in the Guidely Community, a new membership community and smartphone app, I guide people every day to regulate their nervous system so they can create emotional balance and design a life that brings genuine joy and fulfillment. Although there are hundreds of different approaches, tools, and techniques, many of which need to be individualized for the person, below are key things we can all do to optimize the health of our minds and bodies and create a solid environment to support a healthy nervous system and to maximize performance.

Sleep

Sleep is a basic human need. Compromising on rest and recovery not only predisposes you to elevated stress and anxiety, but cognitive faculties, executive functioning, blood sugar regulation, memory consolidation, and more all suffer as a result. A lack of sleep can also predispose you to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

When we don’t get enough sleep, growth hormone isn’t released, muscles can’t be built, fat can’t be burned, and cells can’t heal and repair. Before diet and exercise, I would argue that sleep is the greatest hack for optimal health and performance. Having a solid nighttime routine to get to sleep and a morning routine when you wake up allows you to maximize the benefits of good sleep. Here are some tips to ensure a good night’s rest:

  • Ideally, you want to limit exposure to bright lights in the evening. This mirrors the spectrum of light one receives from the sun, which indicates to the body via photoreceptors in the eyes and on the skin that it’s still “daytime” and not yet time to produce melatonin. Not only is melatonin key for sleep (allowing you to get into the deeper and more restorative stages of sleep) but it is also a potent antioxidant and key molecule in downregulating inflammation and strengthening the body’s immune response. 
  • Additionally, you want to focus on calming the nervous system with some deep belly breathing, some yoga nidra, a warm shower or bath, journaling (take it out of your mind and leave it on the paper so it doesn’t percolate inside overnight), and meditation. There are hundreds of meditation styles out there that create different effects on the brain and body. To wind down and lower stress, opt for meditation styles that naturally produce slower brainwaves. Incorporate mindfulness-type practices like body scans in which you observe but not engage with thoughts and emotions while tuning into all five senses and meditations like Transcendental Meditation.
  • A tea blend of passionflower, valerian, and hops is also good for winding down.
  • Optimize your sleep environment by keeping it very dark and slightly cool (in the mid 60s Fahrenheit).
  • In the morning, expose your skin and eyes to bright light (ideally from the sun) to reset and regulate the body’s natural circadian and cortisol rhythm. This sets you up for the perfect hormonal dance throughout the day and queues you up for a good night’s rest the following night.

Benefits of proper sleep include:

  • Nervous system recovery (an unfortunate downside for those with PTSD is the insomnia they so often experience, which prevents the very conditions necessary for healing)
  • Weight loss
  • Improved response to stress
  • Improved overall mood
  • Better blood sugar regulation
  • Improved focus and cognitive performance/executive functioning
  • Better emotional regulation
  • A strong and robust immune system 
  • Physical recovery; production of growth hormone
  • Overall hormonal health and more

Whatever your goals may be, quality sleep is a non-negotiable.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition is essential for leading a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a balanced nervous system, and performing at your best. It goes without saying that good nutrition helps you create and maintain an optimal weight, reduce stress, regulate healthy blood glucose levels, and lower blood pressure. It can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, all manner of chronic health disorders, autoimmune conditions, and inflammation.

Although it’s important to note that different bodies have different needs, and what serves one person may in fact harm another (for this reason, it’s important to individualize nutrition for oneself), there are some things that help across the board.

  • Cut out processed food and sugar. This is true for corn, wheat, dairy, and soy if you are sensitive to them and find they produce inflammation in the body.  
  • Prioritize healthy sources of fats, such as avocados, fish, grass-fed sources of meat, butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut products. The brain is 60 percent fat in dry weight. The membranes of cells in the body and the myelin sheath that covers and insulates the neurons in your nervous system all need healthy sources of fat. Stay away from vegetable oils and trans fats, as these oxidize easily and cause excess inflammation. Wild caught salmon, mackerel, and sardines are all great sources of healthy fats because they provide omega-3 fatty acids, which do wonders for inflammation in the brain and body and can cross the blood-brain barrier.
  • Healthy sources of protein are essential, because the amino acids found in protein are used to manufacture neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, all which can help create a more positive mood state. Both protein and fat are also necessary to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Often when blood sugar crashes or swings, excess cortisol is dumped to liberate glucose molecules for energy, which can lead to or aggravate states of stress or anxiety.
  • Drink water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Add a pinch of pink salt or sea salt to electrolyze it. Even just 1 percent dehydration drastically disrupts cognitive functioning.  
  • Optimize your gut microbiome with fermented foods (if you’re not sensitive or have forms of IBS) as the correct microbes can help produce necessary neurotransmitters. Gut health in general is key, and benefits greatly from things like bone broth and collagen. 
Breathing

Different breathing exercises and techniques can help regulate the nervous system. A regulated nervous system equals healthy levels of stress. You’re calmer, more relaxed, focused, more deliberate and intentional, less reactive, and more responsive. And as a result, you’re far more productive, creative, and efficient, as it improves overall executive functioning and cognitive abilities. 

You’ll also experience greater emotional regulation and more resources and blood flow in areas of the brain that allow for critical thinking, planning, reasoning, logic, empathy, and emotional intelligence. It’ll allow for more areas of the brain to have better communication between one another and lead to a greater improvement in your ability to function and operate day to day and have greater resilience to and flexibility with stressful stimuli.

There are hundreds of different practices and techniques, and each can produce different results in one’s bio and neuro chemistry and electromagnetic activity. 

Key points to remember:

  • If you need to upregulate your nervous system, extend the inhale making it longer than the exhale. 
  • If you need to downregulate, extend the exhale making it longer than the inhale. 
  • To remain both calm yet alert, breathe at a ratio of 1:1.
  • Prioritize breathing with the nose, not the mouth. 
  • Breathe with the belly, not the chest.
  • Ideally, aim for six breaths per minute. 

Coherent Breathing is a simple but powerful practice from the Heartmath Institute. It creates a more coherent heart rhythm and produces coherent and balanced brainwaves. This practice involves breathing in and out for a count of five (five-second inhale, five-second exhale). Imagine the breath flowing in and out from the center of the chest. Do this for two to five minutes. You can do so throughout the day, before meetings, presentations, difficult conversations, and of course, in the evening to downregulate the nervous system. This is a great tool to use to tap more into those areas of the brain that allow for higher level thinking, focus, connection, and performance. 

Start here. Create solid foundations. Get clear on the right goals and your road map. And build the right habits. No matter where you’re headed, sleep, nutrition, and better nervous system regulation are going to be key components in you getting there. 

About The Author
Tom Jasinski

Tom Jasinski, “the NeuroArkitect,” has been a coach for the past 10 years. Originally focused on optimizing the health and fitness of the body with individualized exercise and nutrition, he then proceeded to dive into neuroscience, and added coaching around wellness and mental and emotional health when starting a neurofeedback business back in 2017. A long-time practitioner and student of breathwork and meditation and a lifelong biohacker and personal development enthusiast, Tom is both a student of life and what it means to be a fully actualized, healthy, optimized, and fulfilled human being. 

In 2022, Tom joined the community of expert Guides at Guidely.com, where he offers group and individual coaching. Guidely, an intelligent personal-development platform, connects people seeking healing, inspiration, and answers with experts who help transform their lives. With live one-on-one and group coaching, virtual courses, and community events, Guidely’s comprehensive resources include a wide range of mental, physical, and spiritual services to uplift people into healthy, happy, and whole lives.