Getting enough sleep is essential for your well-being, but according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep issues that affect their health. Symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep despite feeling tired, waking up frequently during the night and trouble getting back to sleep, all of which can lead to low work performance, slowed reaction time, obesity, higher risk of long-term disease and substance abuse.
Those who sleep less than eight hours per night are experiencing “sleep debt” which, contrary to what many people believe, cannot be reversed by “catching up” on the weekend. Insomnia is not a single sleep disorder, but rather a symptom of another problem, which varies from person to person. It can be caused by simply drinking too much caffeine or by something more serious, such as an underlying medical or psychological condition.
The two most common causes of chronic insomnia are anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle in which the insomnia exacerbates the underlying psychological issue.
Fortunately, most cases of insomnia can be cured with simple lifestyle changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have found massage to be beneficial for insomnia-related stress, as well as:
- Digestive disorders
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Paresthesias and nerve pain
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
Massage Taps into the Chemistry of Sleep
The National Institutes of Health has advised that massage therapy can reduce fatigue and improve sleep and, based on research gathered by the AMTA, massage has been shown to improve sleep in infants, children, adults and the elderly alike, as well as individuals with psychiatric disorders, cancer, heart disease, lower back pain, cerebral palsy and breast disease.
Anne Williams, the director of education at Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, and author of Spa Bodywork and Teaching Massage, says, “Massage helps people spend more time in deep sleep, the restorative stage in which the body barely moves, which reduces the neurotransmitter associated with pain.”
There are many different types of massage, including these common types:
- Swedish massage — This is a gentle form of massage that uses kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping to help relax and energize.
- Deep massage — This massage technique is a slower, more forceful method designed to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly used to help with muscle damage from injuries.
- Sports massage — Similar to Swedish massage, it’s geared toward people involved in sport activities to help prevent or treat injuries.
- Trigger point massage — This massage focuses on areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in muscles after injuries or overuse.
The chemistry of sleep is relevant in relation to massage because it directly influences the body’s production of serotonin, which is essential for the production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle by chemically causing drowsiness and lowering the body temperature. A study on back pain, published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrated that in addition to a decrease in long-term pain, subjects receiving massage experienced improved sleep and an increase in serotonin levels. Results were based on twice-weekly, 30 minute massages for five weeks, using these techniques:
- Kneading and pressing the back muscles
- Massaging both sides of the spine and hips
- Gliding strokes to the legs
- Kneading and pressing the thighs
In the supine position, participants received:
- Gliding massage to the neck and abdomen
- Kneading of the rectus and oblique muscles that help bend the trunk of the body forward
- Massaging of the legs
- Kneading of the anterior thighs
- Flexing of the thighs and knees
- Gentle pulling on both legs
In addition to other assessments, a sleep scale to measure quality of sleep and urine samples to measure levels of serotonin were used in the study.
Massage: The Natural Alternative to Sleeping Pills
Massage is a healthy and drug-free option that is helping a growing number of people overcome insomnia. Because melatonin influences the sleep stage of an individual’s circadian rhythm, a natural way of boosting serotonin is a positive sleep-inducing option. This connection calls for further research showing the direct effects massage therapy has on serotonin and sleep. In the meantime, the existing evidence is enough to suggest that getting regular massages will help you fall asleep — and stay asleep — all night long.
KRAY KIBLER, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Scrip Companies