If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, you may want to consider getting regular massages. It stands to reason that massage relaxes you, and relaxed people tend to fall asleep easier than tense people. But the relationship between massage and sleep is actually a lot stronger than that. It even comes down to a matter of chemistry.
The Chemistry of Sleep
Your ability to fall asleep and to wake up when you need to are both regulated by the hormone melatonin. Your brain produces melatonin in response to darkness, particularly the absence of blue light. This is why good sleep hygiene calls for avoiding television and computer screens at least an hour before bedtime. The principal ingredient your body uses to make melatonin is the neurotransmitter serotonin. So, you need melatonin to get to sleep, and you need serotonin to make the melatonin. It turns out that getting regular massages will increase your serotonin levels.
Why not skip a step? Melatonin pills are sold over the counter as a dietary supplement. Some people swear it helps them sleep. But there has never been very much clinical evidence of it, and most sleep researchers believe its impact on sleep is minimal. Note this 2016 review of sleep medicines for older adults. Plus, a melatonin supplement can have side effects, particularly if you use it for extended periods. And then you have to consider that supplements are not regulated as strictly as drugs, which always makes me think about safety issues.
Massage for Insomnia
It turns out there are a number of clinical studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of massage in relieving insomnia. In fact, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has adopted an official position on the question. “Massage therapy can help improve sleep,” it says on its website. The association described more than a dozen clinical studies in support of this position. There were studies of patients recovering from surgery, fibromyalgia sufferers, women undergoing menopause, children with cerebral palsy, and people with low back pain, to name a few.
The AMTA review suggests there are many reasons for insomnia, and that massage helps with most of them. I believe that massage is so versatile because of the chemistry I described above. Another study of depressed pregnant women seems to confirm it. Researchers found that two 2-minute massages per week for 16 weeks resulted in “higher dopamine and serotonin levels and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine.”
How to Sleep Better
The CDC offers five tips for better sleep:
- Be consistent with bedtime and waking time.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Keep electronic devices like televisions and computers out of the bedroom.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
- Be physically active during the day.
To that list, I would add, “get a massage.” You can book one here.