Massage and Sleep
Do you struggle with sleep problems? If so, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, more than 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. The specific types of sleep problems vary: some people have trouble falling asleep, while others have trouble staying asleep throughout the night. Some people have trouble obtaining the restful, restorative levels of deep sleep and REM sleep that we need to maintain our health and wellness. In any case, regular sleep difficulties and disturbances can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which can have many detrimental effects on health, mood, cognitive ability, and day-to-day functionality.
There are many approaches that are suggested to remedy sleep problems. One of those approaches is the use of massage therapy, which may drastically improve sleep in some people with sleep disorders. Because massage therapy is minimally invasive and has few, if any, side effects, it can be used on a wide range of populations and is often suggested as a helpful part of many treatment regimens.
In this article, we will do a deep dive into massage therapy, exploring exactly what it is, how it works, how it is used in medicine, and how it may improve sleep. We will also explain how to go about getting a massage, and let you know what to expect.
What is Massage Therapy?
The practice of massage has a long, international history, with records dating back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, India, China, Japan, and Korea. Different types of massage styles have evolved throughout the world and throughout time, informed by cultural traditions and various understandings of the body.
Today, massage is still a common type of therapy and is used to promote wellbeing and relaxation and to treat the symptoms of various ailments and conditions. It has become increasingly popular in the United States: in 2018, it was estimated that massage therapy was an $18 billion industry and that 47.5 to 63.5 million adult Americans (roughly 19-28% of the population) have had a massage at least once.
Massage therapy can be greatly beneficial. For healthy people, it’s an excellent way to ease tension and promote general wellness. For people suffering from one or several of a large number of ailments or conditions, massage can be a helpful part of a treatment regimen.
However, not all massages are created equal. Rather, there are many techniques of massage, developed to address specific parts of the body in specific ways. When exploring massage, it’s important to note the differences between the techniques, so you can choose the best one for you and your needs.
Types of Massage Therapy
In the Western world, Swedish massage is the most commonly offered massage technique. It involves four common strokes, which move in the direction of the blood returning to the heart from various parts of the body: effleurage, which are smooth, gliding strokes used to relax soft tissue; petrissage, squeezing, rolling, or kneading motions which follow once soft tissue is relaxed; friction, deep circular movements that increase blood flow; and tapotement, two-handed tapping, usually done with the edge of the hand.
The primary goals of Swedish massage are to relax the entire body, increase the level of oxygen in the blood, improve circulation, break down toxins and scar tissue, and improve flexibility while releasing tension.
Swedish massage has many benefits. Studies have shown that a 45-minute Swedish massage can significantly reduce levels of the stress hormones cortisol and arginine vasopressin, and can increase the production of immune-system-boosting white blood cells (or lymphocytes). It is often used for relaxation, general soft tissue pain relief, increased flexibility, improved mood, and better sleep.
This sort of massage is mainly used to target deeper muscles and fascia (or, connective tissue). It involves slow, deep, deliberate strokes, which focus on working layer by layer to stretch and release tension in the fascia, and as well as working through chronic muscle tension, knots, and adhesions (collections of scar tissue that form when muscles are injured.) The practitioner uses their fingers, thumbs, fists, elbows, and forearms to penetrate as deeply into these areas as the muscle will allow. They also use a “hooking in” approach, which means they slowly move down the length of the muscle as it begins to release tension.
Deep tissue massage is best for smaller muscle injuries, such as whiplash, sprains, sports injuries, postural alignment problems, spasms, tension, and chronic pain located in the muscles and fascia.
Shiatsu massage originated in Japan, and is based on traditional Chinese medicine with elements of Western therapies. Practitioners use their fingers and palms to apply pressure to points on the body which are thought to be connected to energy pathways called “meridians.” The technique is intended to promote the flow of vital energy (called “chi”) through those meridians.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shiatsu is used for a wide variety of pain and stress-related issues, including anxiety, headache, insomnia, back pain, menstrual problems, and fatigue. Though scientific research into the health benefits of Shiatsu massage is quite limited, a few studies have shown that it may help reduce stress and alleviate fatigue, as well as decrease pain intensity and improve quality of life for people with fibromyalgia, among other uses.
Also known as “nuat phaen boran” or “nuat thai”, Thai massage, like Thai Traditional Medicine (TTM), comes from a combination of cultural and medical traditions from India, China, and Southeast Asia. During a Thai massage, the practitioner uses their hands, legs, feet, and knees to manipulate the body with compressing, stretching, pulling, and rocking techniques. The practitioner uses those techniques to position the receiver into a variety of yoga-esque positions, which is why Thai massage is sometimes referred to as “lazy person’s yoga.” The path of the massage generally follows designated energy channels (or, “sen”) in the body, using TTM-based energy work to correct perceived imbalances or blockages in energy flow.
Medically, research has shown that Thai massage can have positive health effects. It can help reduce stress, boost energy, reduce headaches, and improve circulation and balance in people with neuropathy. It is also particularly well suited to athletes, since it increases blood flow to the muscles and promotes flexibility.
It is important to note here that due to the relative physical intensity of the massage, Thai massage is not recommended for people with severe cardiovascular problems or cancer, nor is it recommended for people recovering from serious injuries or major surgery.
This form of gentle massage encourages movement of the fluid in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network that helps rid the body of toxins and waste. Smooth muscles move lymphatic fluid (or, “lymph”), which contains immune-system boosting, infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body, which helps facilitate waste and toxin elimination. In lymphatic massage, the practitioner uses a limited amount of pressure and rhythmic, circular movements to specifically stimulate lymph flow.
Lymphatic massage may be particularly useful for people with lymphedema, or tissue swelling due to fluid retention. Lymphedema can affect people with a number of conditions, including cancer, infections, cardiovascular problems, fibromyalgia, and any injury to the lymphatic system. Lymphatic massage can be used as a part of a treatment program for lymphedema called Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy (or DLT), in conjunction with compression garments, exercise, and skincare. It has also been shown to reduce stress, headaches, and anxiety in some patients.
This massage technique utilizes hot stones to promote relaxation, ease muscle tension, and work through damage in soft tissues. The stones are usually basalt, a volcanic rock that retains heat. They are heated and placed in various places on the body, often along the spine, but sometimes on the chest, the face, the hands, or the feet. The practitioner generally combines the stone placement with various massage techniques, usually along the lines of a Swedish massage. Sometimes, the practitioner will place cold stones on the body toward the end of the massage, in order to calm any engorged tissues or blood vessels.
Hot stone massage can be beneficial for people with muscle tension and pain, and may also ease stress and anxiety and improve sleep, particularly for people with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Tui na is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and may in fact be one of the oldest recorded forms of bodywork. It is based on the concept that blockages of “qi”, vital life energy, lead to a variety of ailments, pains, and illnesses. The goal of the practice is to remove those blockages so that qi can flow appropriately, in order to create and maintain balance and harmony in the body.
Tui na practitioners use eight basic techniques: palpating (mo), rejoining (jie), opposing (duan), lifting (ti), pressing (an), kneading (mo), pushing (tui), and holding (na). They may also use rolling and one-finger pressure/stimulation. Each session is tailored to the needs of the individual (as well as the style of the practitioner): tui na can be practiced as a stronger, deep-tissue massage, or a gentler, more soothing, meditative massage. During sessions, the practitioner uses a combination of the techniques listed above and may incorporate acupressure, reflexology, myofascial release, and techniques common to osteopathy and chiropractic medicine (such as stretching and realignment). Tui na is often used in combination with acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and qigong (a movement/breathing system that promotes wellness.)
Traditionally, tui na has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, and there has been a good deal of recent medical research showing that it may have significant positive health effects. It has been found that tui na may improve blood circulation, reduce pain in the neck and lower back, promote healthy lactation in nursing women, ease osteoarthritis symptoms, and treat musculoskeletal disorders, among other potential benefits.
Reflexology is somewhat different from other massage methods, in that it is focused primarily on the feet. The theory behind reflexology is that areas of the feet correspond to different areas of the body: the tips of the toes to the head, the ball of the foot to the heart and chest, the arch of the foot to the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and the heel to the lower back and the intestines.
Reflexology practitioners generally take medical histories before a session. They then use their fingers, thumbs, and hands to manipulate and apply pressure to certain points on a person’s feet, corresponding to the needs addressed in the person’s history.
It is important to note that while there is no current evidence to show that reflexology can effectively treat most medical problems, a number of studies have shown that it may help reduce psychological symptoms like stress and anxiety, and also may enhance relaxation and improve quality of sleep.
Pregnancy massages are specifically designed for pregnant women (prenatal massage) and women who have recently given birth (postnatal massage). A pregnancy massage may incorporate elements of various types of massage, focusing on the particular tender spots, strains, and needs of the body during pregnancy and after birth. Since each person’s experience of pregnancy and post-partum differs, practitioners of pregnancy massage generally cater the massage to the individual’s needs.
There still needs to be more research done into the effects of pregnancy massage, but the research that does exist tends to show that it can be very beneficial, especially when it comes to improving the quality of sleep in pregnant and post-partum women.
It should be noted that women should consult with their doctor or midwife before seeking out pregnancy massage, especially if their pregnancy has complications or is otherwise high-risk.
Like pregnancy massage, sports massage is a category of bodywork that is geared toward a specific population: in this case, people who regularly engage in strenuous physical activity, from the weekend jogger to the professional athlete. Sports massage is catered to the individual’s needs and physical activity of choice, but often uses techniques similar to Swedish massage, meant to release muscle tension, promote flexibility, and stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph fluids. Sports massage also specifically targets muscle-tension junctions, which improves an athlete’s range of motion and reduces muscle soreness. This type of massage can reduce fatigue, prevent injury, and improve endurance.
Sports massages can be performed just before and just after an exertion event, to prepare the body for activity and reduce recovery time, and to re-normalize the tissues afterward. They can also be used during training, to help athletes train harder with reduced risk of sustaining injuries, and can be used in the event of an injury in order to rehabilitate the body.
Trigger point massage is meant to deactivate specific myofascial trigger points that may cause pain. In this context, “trigger points” are tight areas, or knots, within muscle tissue that may cause pain locally or in other parts of the body. According to the theory of muscle pain under which trigger point massage operates, a trigger point in one area may produce “referral pain” in another part of the body, which may then cause pain in yet another part of the body. For instance, a trigger pain in the back may produce “referral pain” in the neck, which may, in turn, cause pain in the head. The goal of the massage is to work through the knots at the trigger points themselves through cycles of isolated pressure and release and thereby alleviate the pain. Sometimes, the practitioner uses a hand-held mechanical vibration device to stimulate trigger points, either directly or through adjacent tendons. Usually, a person receiving a trigger point massage actively participates in the process, helping guide the practitioner to the exact location of the discomfort, and doing deep breathing work.
There is still very limited research on the efficacy of trigger point massage, and there needs to be more training in exactly how the technique works. Because of this, health benefit outcomes tend to vary. However, some people can experience profound relief of various aches and pains throughout the body, which can lead to improved mood, sleep, and daily functioning.
Aromatherapy massage is the incorporation of essential oils into any massage, either by air diffusion or by physically rubbing into the skin. Commonly used essential oils include bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, lavender, lemon, orange, peppermint, and tea tree, though many others may be used. These oils are each intended to produce specific effects, which may enhance the benefits of the massage itself. Though, as is the case in many massage-related areas, there is limited research on aromatherapy, some studies have found that it can have positive effects. For instance, it was found that stimulating oils (such as lemon, orange, and tangerine) can boost mood and that massages with chamomile oil can be more effective at reducing anxiety.
Watsu (Water Shiatzu) is a relatively new form of massage therapy, developed by Harold Dull in the early 1980’s. It is a form of aqua-therapy and combines muscle stretching, joint mobilization, and various other massage, movement, and breathing techniques.
Watsu is performed in chest-deep warm water. During the massage, the practitioner works one-on-one with the receiver, moving through a set series of steps that include cradling, rocking, mobilization, movement of limbs, stretching, and massaging. The practitioner also directs the receiver in-breath coordination and movements, focused on the needs of the receiver.
Watsu is still being studied, but so far it seems to have significant health applications. The technique creates deep relaxation, and the water relieves weight pressure from joints and muscles, which facilitates tension release and may encourage increased movement in the lymphatic system. It is widely utilized in rehabilitative contexts, specifically for people recovering from strokes and other neurological disorders, and is especially beneficial for older adults.
Conditions Treatable with Massage Therapy
In addition to promoting health, wellness, and relaxation in healthy people, massage is utilized as a tool to treat many different ailments and conditions. It can play an important role in treatment regimens, though, as with any treatment, effectiveness varies by person.
- General Pain Relief: Massage therapy has been extensively shown to help with general pain relief, especially in the neck, back, arms, and legs. It generally compares well with other pain interventions, with the added benefit of having very few, if any, side effects. It is increasingly recommended as a pain management tool with the goal of reducing reliance on opioids in people with chronic pain.
- Musculoskeletal Injury: Massage offers a long-term, non-invasive, cost-effective form of treatment to people who have had injuries to the muscles, bones, tendons, nerves, and other soft tissues. It has been shown to be effective in helping to treat sprains (torn ligaments) and issues like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Hypertension: Research has shown that the use of massage along with anti-hypertensive drugs is more effective than the use of drugs alone. Blood pressure rates consistently drop immediately after massage, remaining below the base rate for up to 72 hours. Studies do indicate that the type of massage is important when it comes to hypertension: the best results come from Swedish massage, while more physically intense techniques like trigger point massage actually temporarily raise blood pressure. Still, the right type of massage can be a helpful part of hypertension treatment.
- Diabetes: When utilized as a part of diabetes treatment, massage can offer several health benefits. Massage alone, but especially along with exercise, has been shown to improve certain diabetes biomarkers (including a reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin, an indicator of sugar presence in the blood), and to improve circulation in the legs. For diabetic people, specific forms of massage (namely, foot reflexology and Thai massage) may improve tissue health, and help maintain balance.
- Headaches: When it comes headaches–specifically when it comes to tension-type headaches–massage can be a very helpful tool. Research has shown that massage can significantly reduce pain level and the frequency of headaches. It is so widely effective that it is consistently recommended in clinical guidelines for headache care.
- Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD: Massage has been used extensively as part of the treatment of mood disorders, specifically depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Both aromatherapy massage and Swedish massage have been shown to decrease depressive symptoms, and massage, in general, has also been effective in lowering reported rates of anxiety in patients with a chronic anxiety disorder. This may be because massage can lower cortisol, a stress hormone, and increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is essential for mood moderation. A single 60-minute massage session can lower cortisol by an average of 30%, and raise serotonin levels by an average of 28%. This may boost the body’s ability to cope with sadness, anxiety, and related stress and pain. Massage also provides individuals with anxiety and depression with a safe, nurturing place in which to experience physical human touch and connection. This is especially important when it comes to its benefits for people with PTSD. Studies of people with PTSD who underwent massage as part of their therapeutic process found that they reported reduced rates of pain, tension, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
- Autoimmune Disorders: When it comes to the challenges faced by people with autoimmune disorders, massage can be useful in various ways. Massage has been shown to improve pain, fatigue, quality of life, sleep quality, and mobility for people with diseases like lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Massage is specifically helpful for the treatment of fibromyalgia, especially in alleviating pain-related symptoms on a long term basis, and in moderating circadian rhythm for improved sleep.
- Painful menstruation, Perimenopause, and Menopause: Massage can be used to ease symptoms caused by menstruation and menopause. Many women experience painful menstruation, also called dysmenorrhea. Studies have found that massage can be used as a non-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment aid to alleviate painful cramping. Three types of specific massage (namely, connective tissue manipulation on the back, foot reflexology, and abdominal aromatherapy massage) have all been studied and found to be effective as a treatment option for painful periods. Moreover, they have been shown to have lasting positive effects through the next menstrual cycle. The symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, including sleep issues, mood swings, hot flashes, and other bodily changes, can also be eased by massage. Research shows that climacteric symptoms (the symptoms associated with increased sensitivity to temperature change, such as hot flashes and night sweats), as well as sleep symptoms, can be reduced in intensity and frequency by massage. Specific massage methods, such as Swedish massage (both with and without aromatherapy), foot reflexology, and Thai massage were found to be particularly helpful for women going through menopause. In fact, one study found that Thai massage may actually increase biomarkers that lead to bone formation in postmenopausal women. Though more research needs to be done on that phenomenon, it is possible that Thai massage may be used in future treatment plans to help improve bone growth and bone density in women after menopause, as bone loss is one of the major health risks faced by that population.
- Pregnancy, Labor, and Postpartum: As stated above, there is a whole school of massage dedicated to pregnancy, and how massage can be used to ease discomfort and promote health and wellbeing throughout the process. Increased research into massage and the body during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum has revealed that massage can actually significantly improve outcomes at all three stages. Massage therapy performed during pregnancy may reduce stress and anxiety, as well as depressive symptoms. Women who incorporate massage into their prenatal care have significantly reduced levels of stress hormones, and significantly elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin, which leads to mood regulation and better heart and blood pressure health. Massage (specifically, Swedish massage) can also address discomfort associated with the changes to the muscles, skeleton, organs, and circulatory system that occur during pregnancy. It can help reduce swelling in soft tissue and joints, and can also alleviate nerve pain, which is experienced by many women late in pregnancy. In addition, massage can greatly improve sleep in pregnant women, who often experience sleep disturbances. Doulas, nurses, and other birth-facilitators have developed massage techniques for use during labor and delivery, which have also been shown to have positive health effects. Studies and literature reviews have found that massage during delivery can help shorten labor, reduce pain, and improve a woman’s sense of control during childbirth. Importantly, data shows that massage also significantly improves birth and postnatal outcomes. Massage during pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk of low birth weight, prematurity, and postpartum depression.
- Cancer-related symptoms: People struggling with cancer and cancer treatment face a wide variety of side effects, symptoms, and potential complications. Massage can be useful in treating and easing the intensity of many of these symptoms in some cancer patients. Large-scale studies have found various types of massage to be effective in addressing cancer-related pain, as well as many other symptoms, including nausea, disturbed sleep and fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It was also consistently reported to improve the quality of life in cancer patients. Massage is particularly useful in treating two main cancer-specific side effects. Many cancer patients develop lymphedema, either from cancer itself or from the treatment. Certain types of massage, especially lymphatic drainage massage, is often an important part of the treatment plan to help reduce congestion and swelling, and can also reduce pain and rates of depression in lymphedema patients. Massage therapy can also help reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, which is a complication of chemotherapy that can cause numbness and pain. In addition, massage therapy can be very beneficial to caregivers of cancer patients. Several studies have shown that even a single massage treatment can help improve blood pressure, heart rate, and sleep quality, and a reduction in self-reported symptoms of pain, fatigue, and anxiety.
- Elder Care, Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Older people in general benefit from massage. Extensive literature reviews have shown that massage increases the health and well-being of older people, especially older people in residential care facilities. After joint replacement surgeries, which are often needed by older people, massage may be especially effective in reducing pulmonary embolism, a potentially serious complication. In the context of Alzheimer’s and dementia, massage can be especially helpful. Massage therapy can be used alongside other sensory enrichment experiences (such as motor-skill activities, art therapy, and hydrotherapy) to improve engagement, connection, and situational awareness. It can also be useful in reducing agitation and aggressive behavior.
- Children with chronic illness/childhood conditions: Just as massage can be helpful in treating adults with various conditions and symptoms, it can also be used effectively on children. Though there needs to be more research done on the subject, a number of studies have found that massage can be very useful in treating conditions and complaints such as low-back pain, elbow pain, asthma, reflux, anxiety, eczema, and cystic fibrosis in children. One study found that massage therapy led to lower levels of anxiety and stress hormones and an improved clinical course in both healthy infants and children and infants and children with a large variety of diseases/illnesses/conditions. Massage is especially appealing as a treatment for children because it is minimally invasive and very low-risk.
How Massage Therapy Can Help Sleep
One of the most consistently reported health benefits of massage is improved sleep.
Who Can It Help?
Massage can improve sleep in people of all ages. Studies have found that infants and toddlers showed significant improvements in sleep after massage therapy and that children and adolescents, who are particularly at risk for sleep disturbance and chronic sleep deprivation, also showed marked sleep improvement with the implementation of massage. A number of studies have also shown that massage promotes sleep health in adults of all ages, from young adults to the elderly.
Massage can also improve sleep in both healthy people and in people with underlying conditions. Many health conditions can cause and be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Massage has been shown to improve sleep, and therefore improve overall health and quality of life, in patients with many of these conditions, including psychiatric disorders, cancer, fibromyalgia, heart disease, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain (especially lower back pain), migraine, and a number of other chronic illnesses.
As mentioned above, massage therapy is so versatile and can treat so many different types of people because it is a minimally invasive, cost-effective, extremely low-risk therapy. This doesn’t make it any less effective: in fact, the statistical evidence behind massage as a treatment for poor sleep is all the more impressive for being so widely applicable.
How Does It Work?
Both research and self-reported experiences show that massage can help some people with sleep, often significantly. There are several different factors and theories that go into exactly how massage helps with sleep.
Alters Sleep Hormone Production
The science of sleep is complex, and is still being studied. However, research has found that there are several hormones in the body that are central to maintaining the sleep-wake cycle, or the ability of the body to maintain healthy sleep patterns and achieve deep sleep. One of these hormones is serotonin, which impacts sleep in several ways. For one, serotonin is used by neurons in the area of the brain that moderates sleep (known as the raphe nuclei) to communicate with one another, which may make it essential when it comes to the brain’s ability to signal when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Serotonin is also a precursor to the production of melatonin, a chemical that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Massage can increase the production of serotonin, which in turn may lead to better neural communication in the raphe nuclei, more melatonin production, and a healthier, better moderated sleep-wake cycle.
Releases Tension, Fights Hyper-arousal, and Decreases Stress Hormones
One of the main functions of massage is to release tension stored up in the muscles and soft tissues. This has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, one of the main stress hormones in the body. Less cortisol can lead to reduced rates of insomnia and sleep disturbance
Additionally, massage stimulates the Vagus Nerve, which is the major nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system.) Stimulating the Vagus Nerve forces the entire body to relax: it slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscles, increases gut function, and further decreases cortisol levels, allowing the body to ease into rest.
Tension release, cortisol reduction, and Vagus Nerve stimulation all fight “hyperarousal”, or the feeling of always “being on.” Hyperarousal is closely tied to insomnia and other sleep problems, and often causes something of a vicious cycle: being hyper-aroused makes it difficult to rest, which causes sleep problems; sleep deprivation then further aggravates the hyper-aroused condition. Massage can be used to break that cycle, forcing the body to relax and overriding the hyperarousal drive.
Addresses Common Sleep-Disturbing Conditions
Massage can also help with sleep by alleviating conditions that may impede or disturb sleep. These include chronic pain issues, especially hip pain, back pain, and shoulder pain, all of which are pressure points that may be hit during sleep. Massage can also treat Restless Legs Syndrome, a condition that specifically affects sleep. One study, for instance, found that three weeks of myofascial release, trigger point therapy, deep tissue massage, and sports massage on the hamstring muscles greatly decreased RLS symptoms. It can be incredibly difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep with these symptoms, so massage can improve your odds of getting good, restful sleep by alleviating them.
Massage can be used in conjunction with many other sleep-improving practices, including but not limited to:
- Getting regular exercise
- Dietary changes (ie, avoiding large meals, alcohol, and/or caffeine before bed)
- Improving sleep hygiene (ie, keeping a regular bedtime; having a nightly routine)
- Creating a comfortable, quiet, and dark sleep environment
- Limiting screen time in bed.
- Taking supplements, such as melatonin, ginko biloba, glycine, valerian root, magnesium, L-theanine, or lavender.
Though massage has very few risks, especially compared to medical or surgical interventions, it is recommended to consult with your doctor before taking on a course of massage therapy, especially if you have chronic health conditions that a physically intense massage may exacerbate. In addition, you should check with your doctor to rule out additional, underlying causes for sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, which requires a specific intervention (namely, the use of a C-PAP machine.) However, for most people with sleep problems, massage can be a safe, holistic tool to promote healthy, restful sleep.
Where to Get a Massage Therapy Appointment
As we mentioned previously, massage is quite popular in the United States and is offered in a variety of different venues. Each venue has its own pros and cons, and some may be better suited to your needs than others. Here’s what to expect:
Day spas are facilities that offer a wide variety of treatments, including massage. Massage providers at day spas go through a state-standard licensing process and are sometimes trained in several different massage styles. The advantage of a day spa is that you can take advantage of other treatments while you’re there. Day spas commonly offer facials, aromatherapy, and various other skin and body treatments, and also usually have pools, saunas, or jacuzzis.
A medical spa is a sort of hybrid between a medical clinic and a day spa. They usually offer common spa treatments, but may also offer medically supervised services like laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and/or cellulite treatments. The massages offered at medical spas will also be professional-grade, and may also incorporate advanced bodywork techniques, such as reflexology, herbal body wraps, and acupressure.
Many beauty salons offer massage services alongside hair, nails, and waxing. Usually, these back, neck, and arm massages are less formal and can be performed while a person is undergoing other beauty treatments. Massage can also be used on the hands and feet during a manicure or pedicure, or on the scalp and head during a haircut.
Many gyms now offer massage programs. These programs are sometimes members-only, but often, non-members can also book a session. Most of the massages offered in a gym setting will resemble sports massages, aimed at increasing flexibility and endurance, and addressing specific activity-based aches and pains. Sometimes, though, gyms also offer more gentle, relaxing massages, like Swedish massage and aromatherapy.
For people with chronic pain, and especially for people recovering from an injury or illness, physical therapists can offer integrated massages tailored to your needs. These massage techniques are specifically designed to address pain and strengthen wounded muscles and tendons in order to promote mobility. Physical therapists sometimes have their own practices, but they also sometimes offer treatment in hospitals, rehab centers, and through in-home visits.
Otherwise known as massage centers or institutes, these are businesses, organizations, and/or collectives with a roster of massage therapists or technicians. Generally, they offer a wide variety of techniques from their various staff members, but sometimes they are focused specifically on one general technique or school of thought. Unlike day spas or beauty parlors, massage parlors generally only offer massage. It is important to remember to do your research when it comes to this type of massage outlet: while some are absolutely above board and offer fantastic services, others can be less regulated and somewhat shadier. Make sure to read reviews and get feedback before signing up for a session.
Many massage therapists operate independently, either out of an office or out of their own homes. An independent private massage therapist will often have extensive training in multiple massage techniques, and generally have their own technique and philosophy about massage that they bring to their work. Sometimes, private massage therapists also incorporate other physical, spiritual, or energy-based practices into play. These therapists offer a wide range of styles and approaches, which is perfect if you’re looking for something new. As is the case for massage parlors, it is important to do your research before booking a session, both to verify the therapist’s credentials and to make sure what they’re offering is a good fit for your needs.
Chiropractors, who work with musculoskeletal issues, often incorporate massage into their work. Sometimes, the chiropractor will offer massage themselves, and other times they will have a massage therapist on staff. Techniques such as lymphatic drainage, shiatzu, and trigger point massage are often utilized by chiropractors to complement adjustments and other treatments.
Some massage has now become, for lack of a better word, “Uber-fied”. A number of apps (such as Zeel, Soothe. And Byrdie) offer on-demand massage from licensed therapists that come right to your home or office. This is definitely a convenient choice, and is also easily customizable: you can list your preferences (type of massage, length of massage, gender of massage therapist, etc), and the app will match you with the right therapist. You may not get the soothing atmosphere of a spa, but you also don’t have to leave your living room.
Massage schools are something of a life hack for the budget-conscious massage seeker. Students in training to be licensed massage therapists need a certain number of practice hours, and schools frequently open up reduced-cost sessions to outside volunteers. Because the students are not yet licensed, massages are overseen by a licensed massage therapist, so you will still be getting the treatment you came in for. Being a massage school guinea pig isn’t recommended for people looking to address specific issues, or for people with unique medical needs. However, if you’re just looking for a quick massage for cheap (and want to help a massage student learn), this is a good option.
Now that you know more about massage and the ways it can help facilitate sleep and general wellness, you might want to keep exploring. We’ve put together a list of online resources that you can use to continue your journey.
- Massage Fact Sheet: An in-depth fact sheet and analysis of massage and its benefits from the Mayo Clinic.
- American Massage Therapy Association: A verified hub of information, research, publications, and community resources, including a very helpful section on insurance coverage and massage.
- Massage Magazine: An information source with fascinating articles, resources, FAQs, and general up to date information about massage therapy.
- Insomnia and Massage: The Integrative Healthcare Organization’s thorough, vetted run-down on the science behind massage and sleep.
- Massage Therapist Finder: An excellent finder tool for massage therapists, searchable by location and massage type.
- MassageTherapy.com: Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals’ central website, where you can find a comprehensive database of massage-based information and resources.
- Massage and Kids: A run down from The Nursery Collective on the benefits of massage for kids, from infants to pre-teens.
- Self-Massage for Better Sleep: Pressure-point techniques for self-massage to combat insomnia.
- Guided Video: Additional Self-Massage Sleep Techniques: In this video, licensed massage therapist Rachel Richards gives you tips for self-massage techniques you can use to help relax you into sleep.
- “What is a Sleep Massage?”: Annakeara Stinson’s article for Elite Daily, in which she tries out sleep massage and gives you the inside info.