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Real Life Wellness-How to Rest and Digest

By Dr. Bill Hemmer
Last week, I talked about one side of your Autonomic Nervous System. Your Fight or Flight response (also referred to as your Sympathetic response) is your body’s ability to get ready to resist stress of all types. This week, I want to discuss the other side (called your Parasympathetic response) of your body’s ability to recover from stress.

Once you have run away from the bear, your body is designed to find something to eat and then get some sleep. It is the best way for your body to recover. Your Fight or Flight response makes you expend tons of energy. It only makes sense that you need to replenish your energy with sleep and food. 

But here is the problem. When you were running from the bear thousands of years ago, you could go back to your cave and rest and eat for as long as you needed to. If it was an hour, a day, or a week, it wasn’t that big of a deal. You rested until you were ready to face stressors again.

Boy…have times changed.

Now, one stress is followed by another, and another, and another! You have stress from the time you wake up, until it’s time to go to bed. We eat on the run and on the clock. We don’t take time to slow down, enjoy our food, connect with loved ones, or even relax for a few minutes. 

Your Rest and Digest response (the Parasympathetic Nervous System) is designed for you to rebuild your capacity to handle stress. When stimulated, your Blood Pressure goes down and Blood rushes to your digestive system to help you digest what you have just eaten. Also, your heart rate and respiration rate go down to calm you down and you get sleepy. This is also when you produce the most hormones to rebuild your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

All of these things occur because your body needs to recover from the Fight or Flight responses you have been through that day. Your Rest and Digest response rebuilds your body, cleans out toxins, reset nerves and helps your brain recover. This is of extreme importance.

Sleep has been one of the most underappreciated activities in health for over the last 100 years. Your ability to sleep well is directly tied to your Parasympathetic Nervous system. Simply put, if you don’t sleep well, you will never recover. Plus, the latest research on sleep continues to highlight its importance.

In 2013, an entirely new part of your Immune system was discovered inside your brain. It’s called the Glymphatic System. This system can be considered the trash collection and elimination system of your brain. Special cells produce lymphatic fluid that cleans your brain, kills viruses, bacteria and parasites inside your brain cavity and then flushes all this trash into your lymph system to be disposed of. But…this system is only activated when you get into deep sleep! If you don’t get quality deep sleep, you never get your brain cleaned! This leads to brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, irritability, and mood issues. 

So, slow down every day. Make your routine include time to wind down, eat your meals slowly and with people you love. Plus, and most importantly, get quality sleep every night. Your brain health depends on it!

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