Did you know that a good night’s sleep can begin on the massage table?
When was the last time you woke feeling refreshed and energetic, having woken naturally from your sleep without the intrusion of your alarm clock, and felt ready to conquer the world?
Not sure? No, for far too many of us that feeling is dim and distant, or something that can only be achieved during a holiday rather than in the midst of the day-to-day grind of life.
In our increasingly 24 hour society it is becoming ever more difficult to find the time to truly unwind and relax, with many of us rushing around trying to juggle home, work and social lives until late in the evenings.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to make the conscious effort to ‘switch off’ once I get into bed – the technology available to us in smartphones means that it is now all too easy to invite the hubbub of social media into our bedrooms. A quick scroll whilst lying in bed may seem ‘relaxing’ but we are failing to give our minds time to unwind, and then wonder why our sleep is fitful and broken.
While most of us are fully aware of how bad we feel when lacking in sleep, we aren’t necessarily fully aware of the extent that even short term sleep deprivation can have on our day to day activities.
Even short term, a sleep deficit can alter our mood, judgement, concentration, perception, and information retention. Our ability to perform cognitive tasks is reduced and the likelihood of us making errors increases1. Chronic sleep deprivation causes even bigger issues, and has been found to be linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early mortality.
Sleep is considered by our bodies as a life-sustaining activity, regulated internally in the same manner as our need to breathe, drink and eat. So important in fact, that it is estimated that we spend around a third of our lives asleep.
During periods of sleep, our bodies take the opportunity to grow and repair tissues, synthesise proteins and regulate hormone release. On a cognitive level too, it is thought that sleep allows ‘remapping’ of the brain – slight changes to the structure and organisation of the brains neural pathways.
Throughout sleep periods, the brain is also able to clear the build-up of Adenosine (a by-product of brain neurone activity) that is produced during waking hours. It is thought that this build up is linked to the ‘overwhelmingly tired’ feeling that we get when our bodies are forcing us to allow them to sleep.
A lack of sleep can also contribute to the feeling of being stressed – a 2002 study carried out by Hunter and House noted that cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, is about 50 percent higher in people who get only six hours of sleep a night. The cortisol hormone also plays a role in suppressing the healthy functioning of the body’s immune system, explaining why sleep deprived individuals often feel run down and are susceptible to picking up coughs and colds.
Where does massage come into this?
Massage therapy aimed at relaxation, such as Swedish massage or Hot Stone massage, can assist in improving sleep quality from a couple of different angles.
Firstly, the effects of massage have been shown to increase the level of serotonin produced by the body, a hormone which directly influences the synthesis of melatonin. Melatonin’s key role is to influence the sleep cycle of the individual.
In a 2005 study by Cutler, subjects receiving massage therapy demonstrated increased serotonin levels and in line with this, reported having experienced improved sleep quality.
Secondly, massage therapy has also been shown to reduce levels of cortisol in the recipient, promoting and increased feeling of relaxation and well-being. A study conducted by the American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that volunteers who received a 45-minute Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as arginine vasopressin-a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. As an added bonus, participants also showed an increase in lymphocyte levels – leading to increased immune system functioning.
Although there is much more scope for research to be carried out in the area, the anecdotal evidence supporting massage as a relaxation therapy is substantial.