Benefits of Massage for Sleep: Insomnia, Difficulty Falling Asleep, and Restless Muscles

How Massage Can Help You Get Better Rest

Massage Therapy at Breathe. Physical Therapy and Wellness. Massage for Sleep with Jennifer Mavin LMT

Are you having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Unfortunately, you are not alone. According to the CDC, at least a third of adults in the US report they get less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep on a regular basis. Reasons for a lack of or disturbances in sleep can include: stress, pain, breathing disturbances, medication side effects, and lifestyle and diet connections. Often more than one factor is at play when troubles with sleep arise. 

Sleep plays an important role in our overall health and wellbeing. While we are asleep our bodies are actually quite busy building and restoring tissues, synthesizing hormones, and processing mental information we have taken in during the day. Sleep is an important component of maintaining a healthy immune system and supports creativity and memory. A consistent lack of sleep is often linked to common health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, depression, frequent illness, and can increase one’s risk for being involved in an automobile or work place injury accident.

While there are some types of insomnia that require the help of medical professionals who specialize in treating sleep disturbances, integrated medicine techniques such as meditation, progressive relaxation, yoga, mental health counseling, and massage therapy can benefit those who are experiencing a lack of sleep due to stress or pain. These therapies can calm the nervous system, help to manage pain that may be interrupting sleep, and trigger the release of mood regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

Seeing a massage therapist to help encourage restful sleep can be an effective, low-risk self care tool to encourage some extra ZZZs. Be sure to let your massage therapist know that the reason for your visit is relaxation and to help with encouraging restful sleep. Let your therapist know if your sleep troubles are connected to any physical pain in your body. Informing your therapist about sleep related issues can help her choose an appropriate style of massage to work towards your goals. Once you are on the table, use the time to relax and focus on your breathing. I often start a massage by asking the client to take a deep breath with me. It allows both of us to relax and bring our focus into the present moment rather than continuing to allow minds to continuously run through the laundry list of worries we may have going on outside of the massage space. 

If you have troubles relaxing and letting go of your stream of inner thoughts during your massage, try counting your breaths. 

  • Bring your attention to your breath. Feel how it travels into and out of your body. Does it move deep into your trunk? Does it stay high in your chest? Do you feel any areas where your breath feels restricted? Don’t judge or label your breath, simply observe how it wants to naturally flow.
  • After a couple of observational breaths, start to count out what feels like a natural rhythm for your breath as you allow it to travel deep into your belly. Generally inhales and exhales are equal in length when we are in a calm and relaxed state, so you might quietly repeat to yourself something like “Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4 (pause), Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4 (pause).” If you are feeling extra anxious or stressed, focus on counting an exhale that is slightly longer than your inhale. For example, “Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4 (pause), Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (pause).”
  • As you feel yourself settle into a relaxed state, let go of the internal count and just allow yourself to be present and calm. If you find yourself returning to a busy mind, return to counting your breath to encourage a sense of relaxation. 
  • When your massage has ended, don’t just jump off the table. Lay for a few breaths with eyes open to start to gently awaken your senses. Transition to a seated position and again take a couple of calm breaths before you stand to dress and depart.

By practicing these breath awareness steps during a massage session that is focused on providing a sense of relaxation, you’re building a valuable tool that can be used to help reconnect with that sense of calm when finding sleep has been a challenge. And if you happen to find yourself falling asleep during a massage, just let your body go and catch up on a few extra winks. Your therapist will not take offense to your gentle snores should they settle in as it’s a sign your body is getting just what it needs, relaxation and rest!

Schedule your massage and start sleeping better today. 

Want to learn more about sleep disturbances and massage? Check out these great resources: