So you’ve received your kit and you’re excited about trying out your first session.
Getting started is very easy. Instructions are on screen and on the included card.
There is no one right way to do vagus nerve stimulation. As with everything, try things out to see what works best for you. Here are 10 tips and pointers to help you get the most out of your tVNS device:
Most people find that the paste makes stimulation sessions more comfortable, helps improve skin contact and reduces impedance. But many people prefer not to use paste as they experience fewer issues with skin resistance. It’s a matter of choice. You can use the clip dry or with a little saline solution (salty water). If the sensation of stimulation is too strong or if you experience impedance alerts, such as Alert 862, using paste may help.
Skin is a living organ. It excretes a variety of fluids from salty sweat to lubricants and oils; and it picks up layers of dirt throughout the day. Your ears also contain waxes that can end up on the outer parts of the ear. And even the soaps and skin care products we use can leave a residue on the skin.
All of this can change the way you experience the stimulation session. The best thing to do is take a wet wipe, or simply some water on your thumb and finger and rub your tragus clean before you begin a session.
It’s best to attach the electrodes as deeply onto your tragus as you can. You can either loop the wire over your ear or, even better, loop it over your right shoulder and run it behind your neck and then onto your left tragus. Leave just enough length free to attach the clip at a comfortable angle. The weight of the wire is then either on your ear or on your shoulders and prevents the clip from dislodging from your tragus during the session. This can be fiddly at first, but with practice, you’ll find it easy.
A common mistake is to think that you need to feel a strong sensation in order to gain the benefits. This is not true.
The intensity that you should use is highly variable and depends on you as an individual and may change from day to day as your skin condition varies naturally. At each session, you should aim to adjust the intensity to a level that is comfortable. For most people this is at the level where you can barely feel it. Some people prefer it higher, but it should never feel painful. The sensation you feel is actually related to nerve endings in the skin and not directly due to activation of the vagus nerve itself.
If you are turning it up too high, you will initially feel a strong prickly sensation which may become painful. Different people tolerate this sensation to different degrees. We would recommend keeping it below the level at which it feels prickly. If you keep increasing the intensity it will eventually feel distinctly painful.
If you find the sensation hard to tolerate, try using the paste, or turning down the intensity. In scientific studies, it is common to lower the stimulation level until the subject can barely notice the stimulation is active.
A painful skin sensation can actually interfere with activation of the vagus nerve, so it is completely counterproductive.
If the device is attached properly and showing a current, then the current will be flowing through your vagus nerve. The VagusNet tVNS Stimulator is a 'current controlled' device, which means it samples the stimulation intensity hundreds of times a second and continuously adjusts the voltage to ensure a precise flow of desired current. This is in contrast to most devices on the market which are 'voltage control' which means they adjust the voltage without monitoring the current, so although voltage changes smoothly, the actual stimulation intensity can vary greatly. If the is unable to achieve desired current levels because of poor electrodes contact or high skin impedance, the device will indicate this using an alert system -- if you get such as alert, you should refer to tips 1-3 above.
This is because the nerves in your skin are designed to adapt and ignore sensations that last consistently over time. The nerve cells in your skin are designed to notice change and are more sensitive to new sensations. As you become accustomed to the sensation of stimulation, you will find it more tolerable until eventually you may barely notice it.
The benefits of tVNS are seen over time. Improvements to your heart rate, blood pressure, digestive and immune system function are not always obvious, but you may find yourself sleeping better and feeling more calm and relaxed throughout the day. The extent to which you notice changes will depend a great deal on where you started. Some people report dramatic changes but in some cases the changes are gradual and you may not realise things have changed until you recall how you felt some months ago. The human body and nervous system adapt slowly over time and if you have an imbalance, it will have developed over months or even years; and regaining that balance and harmony will equally take time. Be regular and consistent in you stimulation sessions and always try to combine it with other changes in your diet and lifestyle. For example, many people like to combine stimulation with meditation. Scientist and clinicians are interested in tVNS mainly because of the long term benefits.
Don’t stress if you don’t do the whole session. Many scientists currently recommend 15 minutes a day, but you can build up to this and you don’t have to do it all in one session. However, many people find stimulation works best if they allow themselves the full time to sit and relax during the stimulation session. Eventually some people find that longer sessions of up to 60 minutes are helpful. Take things gradually and see how your body responds.
Thousands of scientific studies indicate that side effects are very rare, but not unknown. The most commonly noted side effects are actually skin reactions - these are typically classified as mild side effects and include tingling, pins and needles or some other skin discomfort; or warmth and redness on the skin at or around the point of stimulation. Side effects which are considered more serious are related to the actual stimulation of the vagus nerve. As the vagus nerve is also involved in a range of bodily functions, these more severe side effects can be very broad, including: indigestion, nausea, feelings of disorientation, changes in your hearing, neck stiffness or pains, or feelings of changes to the rhythm of your heart. These are nothing to be immediately alarmed about as even such rare occurrences have never been documented as long lasting. If you do experience any uncomfortable/severe side effects, you should stop the session, leave it for a few hours, or even a day or two and try again. If some of these more severe side effects persist, you may be one of a small percentage of people (around 1%) who do not tolerate tVNS well, and you should return the device for a full refund. We give a 30 day refund policy to allow plenty of time to find out if you are able to tolerate tVNS well or not.
Vagus nerve strength (or tone) is known to correlate well with many long term health outcomes; in other words, the benefits of stimulation accrue gradually over time. Some of the benefits may be in terms of preventing or reducing the negative, natural and common effects of ageing. Shorter term benefits will be felt over a few weeks, and some very short term benefits may be measurable sooner. For example, straight after a session, blood pressure often falls and heart rate variability increases. These benefits may fluctuate with each session, but you should see an improving trend over time. It’s a good idea to keep track of these biomarkers (blood pressure and heart rate variability) if you can. Studies have shown that such benefits show measurable improvements within a few weeks. You may also feel other positive effects more immediately, such as a feeling of relaxation and wellness. Such effects are harder to measure precisely, but are often reported by users. Because of the subjectivity of such reports, these are hard to quantify. It may well be that positive effects reported by some people are the same effects that are reported as negative by others. Let your own feelings be your guide. Take things gradually and give it some time.