Massage and sleep thumbnail

Massage and sleep

‘I sleep so well after a massage… I just tell everyone to not talk to me and I’m out like a light’

The odd night of poor sleep affects almost everyone at some point - it’s normal, if annoying. It can be caused by a stressful day, something you ate, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, or many other things. However, for some unfortunate people sleeping poorly can become a pattern, with consequences for their daytime experiences, health and wellbeing. Massage can influence sleep patterns and might help you to get better quality sleep. So why is this? We think massage can help in two ways; by relieving stress, and by relieving discomfort.

What does stress do to my body?

When we experience stress, the sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to prepare the body for danger, swings into action. As far as our bodies are concerned we are still cavepeople and ‘stress’ is caused by the possibility of being eaten by a passing lion. So our responses are designed to get us ready to fight the threat off, run away, or play dead and hope we don’t look appetising! There are wide-ranging effects across the body - from the digestive system, which stops work immediately, to the pupils of the eyes, which dilate to improve our vision. The endocrine system, which releases hormones into the body to control our body’s functions, is also stimulated. When we experience stress, the body releases adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. They raise our heart and respiratory rates, cause the release of glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream for the body to use as fuel, and raise the blood pressure.

What happens when stress doesn't go away?

Of course, all these responses make perfect sense if we are facing short-term periods of stress - such as wrestling a passing bear, for example. But in modern Britain bears tend to be in short supply, and our stress responses are often stimulated by other factors. A burgeoning email inbox, alarming gas bill or looming deadline may not have quite the same life-threatening properties as Paddington in a grump, but as far as our bodies are concerned there isn’t much difference, and they prepare us for action accordingly. What should happen is that the stressful situation passes, and our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, reversing the adaptations that our bodies have made to prepare us for action, calming and relaxing us, and returning the body to a state of rest. But when that stress doesn’t go away - when we find ourselves experiencing it chronically - that’s when we may need a bit of help. And this is where massage can form part of your plan to calm your body down and unwind.

How does massage help with stress?

Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, with even short massages at a moderate pressure having an effect[1]. As the parasympathetic nervous system begins to work, the heart rate slows, the digestive system begins to work, and the blood pressure falls. Levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream fall, and instead the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are released, giving a sense of wellbeing and relaxation[2]. The pituitary gland releases oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love’ hormone, further increasing wellbeing levels and relaxation[3]. Massage is a way of telling our bodies that it’s safe to relax and that there’s no danger present - allowing us to wind down and become more ready for rest and sleep.

How else can massage help me to sleep?

Massage can also help us to sleep in another way - by relieving pain and tension. A sore back, for example, can keep us awake if we aren’t able to find a comfortable resting position. This can become a vicious circle, with pain making it hard to sleep, and a lack of proper rest in turn worsening pain levels[4]. After all, doesn’t everything just feel worse when we’re very tired? As well as other changes you may be able to make (such as changing your mattress or pillows), massage may help to soothe away aches and pains, allowing you to relax and get some proper rest.

If you have trouble sleeping and would like to see if massage could help you, give me a call to book your appointment for a 30 minute relaxing treatment. Or, if your aches and pains are making sleeping difficult, give me a call to discuss your needs.





Author Hannah Tabram. Category Blog. First published Wed, 19 Jan 2022 21:27:16 +0000