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Sleep Massage: Can a Massage Help You Get Better Sleep?

Question:

Lately I’ve had trouble falling asleep, and when I do finally fall asleep I wake up frequently throughout the night. Everybody I talk to about this just recommends I take a sleep aid like melatonin. I know they work, the problem is I’m worried about side effects or the possibility of getting addicted and making this problem worse without them. I started looking at ways to improve my sleep without taking drugs, and massage keeps coming up. Can massage help me get better sleep?

Answer:

If you have problems falling asleep and staying asleep, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans experience sleep issues that affect their health. Insufficient sleep is also associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes and depression, according to the CDC.[1]

One study published in Sleep Science evaluated the effects of massage therapy for insomnia in postmenopausal women, and concluded that massage therapy was not only effective in helping those women fall asleep and stay asleep, but that it also treated other postmenopausal symptoms.[2] Other studies have shown that back massage improves sleep quality for critically ill older men[3] and for patients with poor sleep quality post-surgery.[4]

But you don’t have to be older, or critically ill, to reap benefits from regular massage therapy. The National Sleep Foundation has noted there are numerous studies that show massage improves sleep.[5] Massage helps you sleep by triggering your body to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect. Increased serotonin promotes mental relaxation, helping to calm an overactive mind. Massage therapy also decreases depression and reduces anxiety levels, which can improve the quality of your sleep.[6]

Massage not only helps you fall asleep, it helps you stay asleep longer. You’ll also spend more time in deep sleep, the restorative stage of sleep in which your body barely moves. This stage of sleep is important for the development of various neurotransmitters, including melatonin, which can decrease pain and tension in your body.[7]

A gentle, relaxing massage such as a Swedish massage will ease tension in your muscles and relax your mind and body to prepare you for sleep. Book your massages in the evening, and then spend some time relaxing after your massage. A warm bath or a cup of hot herbal tea can prolong the relaxing effect of the massage. The effects of massage are cumulative. To get the full benefits of massage for better sleep, book a massage twice a week for at least five weeks.[8]


References:

[1] American Massage Therapy Association: “Massage Therapy Can Help Improve Sleep,” https://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-Can-Help-Improve-Sleep.html

[2] Sleep Science: “The beneficial effects of massage therapy for insomnia in postmenopausal women,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4521661/

[3] American Journal of Critical Care: “Effect of a back massage and relaxation intervention on sleep in critically ill patients,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9656043

[4] Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil): “Effects of massage therapy on sleep quality after coronary artery bypass graft surgery,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21243280

[5] National Sleep Foundation: “Can Massage Help You Sleep?” https://sleep.org/articles/can-massage-help-you-sleep/

[6] Id.

[7] Sleep Review: “Massage for a Better Night’s Sleep,” http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2014/05/massage-therapy-sleep/

[8] Id.

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