What Is the Somatic Nervous System?
Posted on January 2, 2022 by xtxwebmaster
The somatic nervous system plays a vital role in initiating and controlling the movements of the body. The system is responsible for nearly all voluntary muscle movements, as well as for processing sensory information that arrives via external stimuli, including hearing, touch, and sight. How exactly does this complex system work? The somatic nervous system contains both afferent nerves traveling from the periphery towards the CNS and efferent nerves that are responsible for sending signals from the CNS to the periphery. The brain and spinal cord are responsible for processing and integrating the various sources of information to allow us to develop a response. Therefore the main function of the somatic nervous system is to connect the CNS with organs and striated muscle to perform our daily functions.
The autonomic nervous system regulates a variety of involuntary body processes that take place, including heartbeat, blood flow, breathing, body temperature, and emotion response. The primary function of the somatic nervous system is to connect the central nervous system to the body’s muscles to control voluntary movements. and reflexes.
What Is the Peripheral Nervous System?
The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the division of the nervous system containing all the nerves that lie outside of the central nervous system (CNS). The primary role of the PNS is to connect the CNS to the organs, limbs, and skin. These nerves extend from the central nervous system to the outermost areas of the body.
The peripheral system allows the brain and spinal cord to receive and send information to other areas of the body, which allows us to react to stimuli in our environment. The nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system are actually the axons or bundles of axons from nerve cells or neurons. In some cases, these nerves are very small but some nerve bundles are so large that they can be easily seen by the human eye. The peripheral nervous system itself is divided into two parts: the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. Each of these components plays a critical role in how the peripheral nervous system operates.
The Somatic Nervous System
The somatic system is the part of the peripheral nervous system responsible for carrying sensory and motor information to and from the central nervous system. The somatic nervous system derives its name from the Greek word soma, which means “body.”
- Motor neurons: Also called efferent neurons, motor neurons carry information from the brain and spinal cord to muscle fibers throughout the body. These motor neurons allow us to take physical action in response to stimuli in the environment.
- Sensory neurons: Also called afferent neurons, sensory neurons carry information from the nerves to the central nervous system. It is these sensory neurons that allow us to take in sensory information and send it to the brain and spinal cord.
The autonomic system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that’s responsible for regulating involuntary body functions, such as blood flow, heartbeat, digestion, and breathing. The autonomic system that controls aspects of the body that are usually not under voluntary control. This system allows these functions to take place without needing to consciously think about them happening. The autonomic system is further divided into two branches:
- Parasympathetic system: This helps maintain normal body functions and conserve physical resources. Once a threat has passed, this system will slow the heart rate, slow breathing, reduce blood flow to muscles, and constrict the pupils. This allows the system to return the body to a normal resting state.
All healing occurs in a parasympathetic state; this includes healthy digestion, detoxification, and cellular regeneration.
This is an important reason why its recommended not eating on the go. It is difficult for your digestive tract to work correctly when you’re active. When we are in a consistent state of “fight-or-flight,” this can lead to:
- Tired but wired feeling, not sleeping throughout the night, often wide-awake between 1-4am and exhausted upon waking.
- Digestive issues such as constipation and bloating, despite a healthy balanced diet. Stress is one of the most common reasons for constipation
- experienced high stress due to the death of a loved one or trauma at a young age. These situations can also increase oxidative stress and free-radical production within our body.
- Increased blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels.
- Weight-gain especially around the middle.
- Feelings of not being able to calm down or slow down mentally and physically.
- Sympathetic system: Regulates the flight-or-fight response, the sympathetic system prepares the body to expend energy to respond to environmental threats. When action is needed, the sympathetic system triggers a response by accelerating heart rate, increasing breathing rate, boosting blood flow to muscles, activating sweat secretion, and dilating the pupils.
While diseases that impact the somatic nervous system are not always preventable, there are lifestyle changes you can make that may help keep your nervous system healthy and resilient
Some strategies that may help include:
Meditation / Breathwork
Five minutes a day of deep breathing through the nose is clinically proven to reduce stress levels and click you in to your parasympathetic nervous system. The 4-7-8 breath. This involves inhaling through the nose for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling through the nose for a count of 8. Gentle yoga classes and regular breathwork such as alternate nostril breathing can also be fantastic for moving the body out of a stress response.
The sympathetic nerves act to accelerate heart rate, while the parasympathetic (including vagus) nerves slow it down. Breathing through your heart can support the parasympathetic nervous system. Heart-focused breathing is about directing your attention to the heart area and breathing a little more deeply than usual. HeartMath has been able to stop panic and anxiety attacks within 5 minutes. Download the HeartMath app or pick up the HeartMath device here.
Cold water stimulates our immune system and activates our vagus nerve, which reduces our stress response. This is a nerve that is part of our autonomic nervous system and the nerve that connects the brain and digestive tract. The communication highway between your brain and gut.
The vagus nerve regulates our heart rate and our digestive system and how each function.
If our vagus nerve is not working optimally, it can lead to slowed motility in our gut, weight gain, anxiety, high-stress, and nutrient deficiencies. This makes it easy to understand the long-term digestive effects of stress, including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and SIBO.
Supporting a Regular Sleep Cycle
Striving for a balanced circadian rhythm is essential for healing and building a strong immune system. Sleeping 8-9 hours improves the effects of stress hormones and poor cognitive health concerns. Add a lavender diffuser to your bedroom and be sure to turn off all screens one or two hours before bedtime.
Learn how to strategically use adaptogens such as holy basil, Rhodiola Rosea, ashwagandha, and ginseng to modulate the stress response during times of stress. Adaptogens can be very supportive and healing to the adrenals and the nervous system as a whole. Ashwagandha is for those who experience anxiety and spend a lot of time in fight-or-flight. It’s clinically proven to reduce cortisol output and is as effective as anti-anxiety medication within 21 days of use.
Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium
Make sure you are taking 400-800mg of magnesium glycinate (taking citrate will exacerbate nervous system issues and cause electrolyte imbalances) daily during times of high stress as well as drinking a natural electrolyte drink with sodium and potassium. Also drinking ¼ teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt in three ounces of water before bed helps to regulate melatonin and serotonin, improving sleep and warding off hot flashes and depression.
Coffee and caffeine-containing teas can be very stimulating for the nervous system. Choosing less caffeine, changing the time you consume it, or having a caffeine-free tea is a better choice if anxiety, sleep, or digestive problems for any length of time.
Caffeine increases heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, and homocysteine. It also stimulates the excretion of stress hormones, which can produce increased levels of anxiety, irritability, muscular tension and pain, indigestion, insomnia, and decreased immunity.
Many people find in their 40s that they can no longer tolerate the same level of caffeine consumption as they could in their 20s and 30s. Production of DHEA, melatonin, and other vital hormones decline, and caffeine speeds up that downhill drop. Caffeine consumption exacerbates adrenal exhaustion. Choose tea over coffee whenever possible. Tulsi TeaTea contains the adaptogen Holy Basil reduces stress while balancing blood sugar. Pique Teas are processed by cold brew crystallization which extracts phytonutrients and antioxidants at maximum potential.
A diet which includes healthy servings of fruits and root vegetables can be nourishing to the nervous system. While this transition can take some time, often a few weeks to a few months, it can be very healing to the system.
When stressed, the tendency to gravitate towards cardio and high-movement activities is common. While this can be healing for some, many people find this to be too stimulating and taxes their adrenals and nervous system even more. Grounding exercises like yoga, walking, and/or pilates can be very nourishing to a nervous system stuck in fight-or-flight. Remember, stress (and cortisol) is addictive so we often crave what will continue our imbalance, such as running fast or kick-boxing, which might stimulate us vs. engaging in an exercise better suited to downregulate an overactive nervous system.
Acupuncture has been used for millennia to help regulate the nervous system and is used in the treatment of many nervous system diseases. Acupuncture points stimulate the central nervous system, which creates chemicals and energy that encourage a parasympathetic response throughout the body. This turns on your body’s natural healing abilities. Acupuncture works best when you receive treatment on a routine basis—a community clinic is a great and affordable option.
Getting bodywork, such as massage, cupping, abdominal massage, chakra balancing, craniosacral therapy and/or reflexology are all amazing at turning off your stress hormones and allowing your body an opportunity to relax so that it can heal— This permits an often-needed space to somatically release toxic stored emotions.in a graceful way. These therapies have been known to help release deep trauma and tension which are deep down within the body, and by doing so, the body can start to heal and recover.