By Lana Adler
Updated March 25, 2021
Getting the proper amount of sleep is a critical factor in maintaining your overall health. However, one-third (1) of American adults report getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis. Many people seek massages as a way to relax, manage stress, and promote better rest.
Massage therapy is used in the management of various health conditions (2), and it has relatively low risk. There are several types of massage, each of which offers unique benefits. We take a closer look at how massage therapy can be used to improve sleep quality.
Can Massage Help You Sleep?
Massage may help improve sleep in two primary ways. The first is by alleviating stress. Stress is known to affect sleep (3). Massage reduces stress by decreasing cortisol (4) (a stress hormone) and increasing serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters that help to stabilize mood). Using massage to decrease stress and to promote relaxation may help you sleep better.
The other way that massage may help with sleep is by managing pain and tension caused by stress or injury. Pain and sleep loss can exacerbate one another (5), leading to a vicious cycle. A lack of sleep can worsen pain, while pain itself can make it difficult to find a comfortable enough position to fall asleep. Successful treatment of pain may improve sleep. Massage therapy has been shown to be helpful in managing various types of pain, including headaches (6), neck and back pain (7), arthritis, and pain after surgery.
If you deal with pain that affects your sleep, it’s important to work with a medical professional on whether massage may be helpful for you and whether other factors, such as your mattress and pillows, can be optimized to help you sleep better.
Can Massage Help With Sleep Disorders?
Massage therapy may help with certain sleep disorders such as insomnia, but there is less research available for how it may affect other sleep disorders.
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It can be acute, lasting for several days, or chronic, lasting up to several months. Some people deal with insomnia that has no identifiable cause (8), which is called primary insomnia. For others, the insomnia is related to a specific cause or condition, also called secondary insomnia.
Evidence on the use of massage therapy to treat primary insomnia treatment is limited. However, researchers have found massage therapy to improve sleep in people who have secondary insomnia related to menopause (9), cancer (10), cancer caregiving (11), congestive heart failure (12), and other conditions.
Other Sleep Disorders
Though there is limited evidence supporting the use of massage to improve symptoms associated with other sleep disorders, massage has been used in people who have sleep apnea (13), narcolepsy (14), and restless legs syndrome (15). If you have a sleep disorder and are interested in massage therapy, speak with your doctor for guidance when exploring this option.
What Types of Massage Are Available?
There are a number of different types of massage, each involving specific practices and goals. Below are some examples of massage methods (16):
- Swedish Massage: Sometimes referred to as classic massage, a Swedish massage aims to relax the muscles and improve circulation by kneading, rubbing, and tapping affected areas.
- Manipulation: This approach to massage involves not only rubbing, but also stretching and moving ligaments, tendons, and muscles in order to improve mobility.
- Deep Tissue Massage: A deep tissue massage can sometimes be painful because the muscles are massaged using hard pressure, with the goal of relieving tension.
- Trigger Point Therapy: This type of massage focuses on trigger points, which are tense spots in the muscles.
A doctor or professional massage therapist can help you determine the massage therapy approach that may be most suitable for your specific situation.
If you are struggling with sleep, massage therapy may be worth looking into. Massage is a natural and noninvasive way to help you relax before bed.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-massage-therapy-for-health-purposes Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29797753/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16162447/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24290442/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26989818/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30892910/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26483913/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24834078/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26745049/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29033989/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28646811/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23730398/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33235081/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279473/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.