Is poor balance the cause of your anxiety and insomnia?

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The cerebellum (the area at the back of the brain) is best known for its role in balance and coordination. However, the cerebellum does more than that — when it starts to malfunction, the results can be not only worsened balance, but also anxiety, insomnia, and hyper sensitivity.

The cerebellum is a primary integrator of information for the brain. Our body has hundreds of thousands of receptors that detect motion, vision, and where and how our body and joints are positioned at all times. These receptors constantly relay information to the brain so that we can move and function properly in our environment.

This information requires organizing before heading to the rest of the brain. The cerebellum condenses the information and “gates” it, meaning it releases it in manageable amounts to the brain’s cortex, the outer covering with its characteristic folds.

The cortex, which is responsible for higher-order functions of thought and action, decides if you need to carry out a specific action or thought in response to the information, such as turn left, answer a question, run from danger, make a decision, etc. The cortex then sends its information back to the cerebellum to help carry out actions.

When things go wrong with the cerebellum

The cerebellum is a common site of dysfunction. It can degenerate, meaning neurons die. The cerebellum is very susceptible to sensitivity to gluten and other foods, environmental toxins, and oxidative stress. It also can degenerate with age — why older people notoriously have bad balance. Children born with brain developmental disorders often have poor cerebellar function.

Poor cerebellar function is observed in various ways, such as poor balance, lack of coordination, or a tremor as you go to pick something up or bring a glass to your mouth (known as termination tremors).

Stand with your feet together, your arms at your side, and then close your eyes. If you sway more frequently to one side, that may indicate the side with more cerebellar dysfunction — it takes it longer to respond to falling on that side of your body.

Other tests your doctor may use to observe cerebellum function are coordination tests such as: finger to nose, walking heel to toe in a straight line, performing complex alternating movements, and ocular tracking (the eyes give insight into function).

Poor cerebellar function can also cause dizziness, disorientation, and nausea in cars, on boats, or when seeing things move swiftly, such as in a movie. Basically, the cerebellum is not able to respond appropriately to input from the environment.

Cerebellum function and anxiety and insomnia

As the cerebellum loses function it begins to falter at its job of gating information delivered to the cortex. As a result, excess information slips through.

This means the cortex and areas in the brainstem receive more information than they can adequately manage. Much of the role of the frontal cortex is to act as a brake pedal on the brainstem, preventing the brainstem from spinning out of control. Our brainstem governs myriad functions, such as emotions, heart function, blood pressure, and digestion.

This poorly gated sensory overload can cause many symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Startle easily
  • Insomnia due to racing mind
  • Irritable
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Highly emotionally sensitive
  • Fearful
  • Heart racing/palpitations
  • Blood Pressure changes
  • Digestive Issues

Many factors work against us when it comes to healthy brain function that prevents an overactive brain and anxiety. They include a culture that cherishes overworking, inflammatory diets, unstable blood sugar, too much screen time, stressful lives, and not enough sleep.

Ask my office for information on how to dampen brain activity and help relieve anxiety and insomnia.

Good balance is key to good and lasting brain function

good blance key for brain copy

While phone apps and online programs that exercise the brain are popular to improve memory, most people overlook a key component to lasting brain function: your balance.

Your brain requires good balance to stay sharp and lower the risk of dementia. In addition to doing brain exercises, make sure you regularly challenge and improve your balance.

How good balance improves brain function

What does good balance have to do with preserving memory and brain function?

The cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain, governs balance, as well as precision, coordination, and timing.

It makes sure you can walk upright, put a spoon to your mouth, or hit a tennis ball. The movements of daily life keep the cerebellum in a constant state of activity.

It’s this constant activity that keeps the rest of the brain on its toes. A healthy cerebellum feeds the brain a steady stream of information to keep it actively firing and healthy. (This is also one reason regular physical activity is so vital to brain health and function.)

Bad balance leads to bad brain function

This explains why symptoms of cerebellum degeneration, such as bad balance, often tie into loss of memory, poor ability to learn, and weakened brain endurance. The brain isn’t getting enough “juice” from the cerebellum to keep it charged and running well.

Brain overwhelm from bad balance

At the same time, if a certain area of the cerebellum degenerates, this can overwhelm the brain with information.

The outer area of the cerebellum serves as a gatekeeper, regulating information that travels from the body to the brain. When this area of the cerebellum degenerates, the gates are left unguarded, and too much sensory input floods the brain.

Symptoms may include restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and others that you wouldn’t think could be related to balance.

Can you pass this balance test?

  • Do you wobble if you stand on one foot? How about with your eyes closed?
  • If you walk in a straight heel-to-toe line do you stumble? How about with your eyes closed?
  • If you stand with your feet together and close your eyes do you sway to one side?
  • Do you walk with a wide gait, or feel like you’re going to fall if you don’t hold the handrail going down the stairs?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your balance issues could be a sign of compromised brain health and increased risk of dementia later in life.

How to improve your balance and hence your brain health

Since we know regular exercise is a must to preserve brain function, look for forms that emphasize balance. Ideas include specific balance exercises, yoga, tai chi, stand-up paddle boarding  dancing, and the use of a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe and work within your limits!

Good balance is only part of a bigger brain puzzle

Good cerebellum health is important, but it’s not the end all. The inner ear, or vestibular system, also plays a vital role in balance and may need attention if your balance is off.

Also, screening for gluten sensitivity is important, as a gluten intolerance degenerates the cerebellum in many people.

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce stressors if you have balance issues. The brain and cerebellum are very sensitive to inflammation from junk foods, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and more.

And make sure you keep your blood sugar stable — blood sugar that is constantly too low or too high (or both) rapidly ages the brain and contributes to poor balance.

Contact my office if you’d like more information on how your balance is related to your brain function.