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Falling and Staying Asleep with Regular Massage

She said she was tired. Really tired. During the last few weeks she found herself increasingly staring at the ceiling at the end of her day, her body and mind unable to relax into sleep. Days of this left her exhausted and making poor choices- less exercise, eating more sugar, consuming caffeine late into the day- all of which further strained her body’s ability to naturally relax. I could tell by the way she was describing it, that she felt isolated in her exhaustion. But she was not alone.

Since I started working as a massage therapist a decade ago I have been surprised by how many people struggle to fall or stay asleep. In fact, it is one of the more common symptoms my clients share with me. This is in part because falling and staying asleep is a delicate dance between our brain chemistry and hormones both of which are impacted by everything else that is happening in our mind and body.

My clients often explain that their minds are whirling as they try to sleep- they are overwhelmed by stress, or kept awake by migraine headaches, muscle pain or joint stiffness. Massage is a particularly useful tool to improve your ability to fall and stay asleep because it addresses all of these causes of sleeplessness directly. It also complements other activities, like regular exercise and turning off bright screens before bedtime, which researchers have found are key components of good sleep hygiene. Most impressively, regular massage is a great way to train your body to quickly go into a relaxed state- improving your ability to fall asleep.

More specifically, regular massage:

  • Shuts down your busy brain. Receiving regular massages reminds your body how to quiet itself down. By promoting relaxation, massage counters the stress that puts our minds in hyper-drive just as we are trying to fall asleep or go back to sleep. Reflexology and Craniosacral therapy techniques are particularly effective at getting the whole body to relax.

  • Can eliminate headaches. Headaches caused by sinus congestion and those caused by neck and shoulder tension from stress or bad posture can be resolved using myofascial release and lymphatic drainage techniques. Especially when headaches are regular, it is important to have many massages to help the relief last.

  • Decreases muscular pain and joint stiffness. Muscle pain is often caused by trigger points in the fascia surrounding muscle fibers. Myofascial release techniques take away these trigger points and Swedish massage techniques increase circulation and range of motion at joints. Swelling leading to joint stiffness can be decreased by lymphatic drainage techniques.

  • Supports regular exercise in the early evening. 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, ideally in the late afternoon early evening, three to four times a week helps you sleep. Exercise raises your body temperature above normal. The decrease of body temperature a few hours after you exercise is a trigger that can ease you into sleep. Massage supports your exercise routine in many important ways. Before a workout, massage increases range of motion and muscle function. After a workout it speeds up muscle recovery by decreasing inflammation and increasing cells ability to take in nutrients (though increased mitochondria production). Lymphatic drainage techniques help eliminate toxins. This can minimize soreness and fatigue which helps you perform at your best.

Helps turn off screens before sleep. Our phone, computer, television; screens that entertain, and organize us also shine bright enough to confuse our body’s production of hormones that help us sleep. The convenience these screens provide also trick us into thinking that every moment is best spent working or planning or being entertained. This is when your own ability to unwind and relax helps you separate from these screens that are both engaging and emit a light which keeps us awake. Massage is a great way to strengthen that ability.

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