Sports Massage Therapy

Does Massage Help Sleep?

Breeze Academy June 13, 2023
Woman sleeping on white linen

Insomnia is a fairly common sleep problem that makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. People that suffer from insomnia try all manner of things to improve their sleep, from medication to exercise, sleep sounds/music/podcasts and specialist teas among other things. But, what if massage offered a solution? In this article we explore how massage impacts sleep and the types of massage that work best.

So, does massage help you sleep? Yes, research shows that massage helps to improve sleep by:

  • Forcing the body to relax
  • Increasing levels of serotonin which produces melatonin - the hormone that makes people fall asleep
  • Lowers cortisol levels, reducing stress
  • Helps to reduce pain and tension in the body

Read on to learn more about how massage impacts sleep, the types of massage which work best for this, and the areas of the body that should be worked on.

Does Massage Help You Sleep Better?

Massage can help you to sleep better, both in the short and long term. This is true of people without pre-existing conditions that impact sleep, and those with such conditions, e.g. pain, hyperarousal and insomnia. 

Why Do You Sleep Well After Massage?

Massage helps to break the cycle of insomnia/lack of sleep by forcing the body to relax. By pulling muscles smooth and long, blood circulation is increased which sends a signal to the brain telling it to relax. 

In addition to this, massage also stimulates the vagus nerve - the major parasympathetic nerve in the body. When stimulated, this nerve tells the entire body to relax. It can also lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), allowing the body to rest as it should, rather than being negatively impacted by stress.

Finally, massage can lead to higher levels of serotonin which is essential for good sleep. Researchers haven’t pinpointed exactly what serotonin does to facilitate good sleep, but understand that it is a precursor to the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that effectively sends a message to the brain telling it that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin levels reduce when it’s time to wake up. Having more serotonin in the body may help to produce the melatonin it needs to sleep properly. 

Aside from affecting sleep-related hormones, massage also helps to reduce pain, improve posture and loosen tension in the body, all of which can be highly beneficial in helping people to fall asleep comfortably. 

Does Massage Make You Tired?

Some types of massage, such as deep tissue or sports massage, can make some people feel mentally or physically fatigued. This is completely normal and is the result of the massage relieving tension and providing relaxation. Learn more about this in our recent blog, Does Deep Tissue Massage Make You Tired?

What Type of Massage is Best for Sleep?

The research around massage and sleep is fairly generic, but some reference the following types of massage as being particularly good for improving sleep.

Swedish Massage

A Swedish massage is a relaxing massage that targets the muscles with a combination of friction, gliding strokes and kneading. Research from Teesside University and the University of Leeds found that in trials where participants were given 3 45-minute Swedish massages per week, patients experienced reduced fatigue. The treatment also relieved depleted energy, reduced stress, promoted relaxation, relieved pain and improved energy. 

Deep Tissue Massage & Sports Massage

Deep tissue and sports massages are more vigorous types of massage that really work the muscles. As such, this may help to increase serotonin levels, producing more melatonin and helping the patient to fall asleep. 

Acupressure Massage

Acupressure is a non-invasive form of Acupuncture. Instead of inserting needles into the skin, Acupressure involves using pressure and massage techniques at specific points of the body. There are a number of Acupressure points which are thought to benefit sleep.

Where to Massage for Sleep

Swedish and deep tissue massages are fairly generic in that they are done across the whole body. Sports massage is similar to deep tissue massage, but is typically only applied to a specific part of the body, e.g. the legs or arms. Research suggests that all three types of massage aid sleep, regardless of where the massage is applied. 

For Acupressure massage, there are a number of pressure points which are positively associated with aiding sleep. These include:

  • Spirit Gate - located at the crease on the outer wrist, below the pinkie finger. Feel for the small, hollow space in this area and apply gentle pressure in a circular or up-and-down movement. Do this for 2-3 minutes.
  • 3 Yin Intersection - located on the inner leg, just above the ankle. Locate the highest point of the ankle then count 4 finger widths up the leg. Apply deep pressure slightly behind the tibia, massaging with circular motions for 4-5 seconds. 
  • Bubbling Spring - located on the sole of the foot, the small depression that appears just above the middle of the foot when the toes are curled inwards. Curl the toes, feel for the depression, then apply firm pressure to this point for a few minutes using circular or up-and-down motions.
  • Inner Frontier Gate - located on the inner forearm between the 2 tendons. With palms facing up, count 3 finger widths down from the wrist crease. Apply a steady downward pressure between the 2 tendons using a circular or up-and-down motion for 4-5 seconds. 
  • Wind Pool  - located on the back of the neck. Find this pressure point by feeling for the mastoid bone behind the ears and following the groove around to where the neck muscles meet the skull. Apply deep, firm pressure to this area using the thumbs and circular or up-and-down movements for 4-5 seconds.

Final Thoughts

Although research is limited, it appears that massage does help sleep in multiple ways;

  1. It forces the body to relax by way of improved circulation.

  2. It stimulates the vagus nerve, which also encourages relaxation.

  3. It lowers cortisol levels, reducing stress.

  4. It increases serotonin levels which helps to produce melatonin - the hormone needed to fall asleep.

If you’re interested in learning more about massage, or would like to incorporate massage into your healthcare practice, take a look at our Sports Massage courses today. We offer Level 3 courses for beginners, as well as Level 4 courses for those wishing to advance. Courses are available at all major cities across the UK. Take a look today or get in touch for more information.

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