I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective massage can be for improving sleep.
HOW COULD MASSAGE IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?
For most people, massages are both a relaxing and an indulgent activity that helps them to enjoy life and look after their health. I personally don’t like to be touched that much, but I do like the after-effects of a good deep tissue massage. I usually do feel more energetic, focused, relaxed and in less pain than I was beforehand
I wasn’t sure if massages would help me sleep better at night, but a few of my clients said that it helped them, and I thought that this would be an excellent excuse to get multiple massages in a week to see what I could find out.
For the first week, I did some form of exercise every day but didn’t get any massage or do any stretching following a game, swim or work out.
For the second week, I got three 60-minute deep tissue massages on the Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the late afternoon/early evening.
Let’s see if the three massages had any impact on my sleep for the week…
Comparison: Massage vs No Massage
Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:
- The number of awakenings:
- No treatment – 1 per night
- Massage – 1.29 per night
- less is better
- Time in bed:
- Massage – 7 hours 33 minutes
- No treatment – 7 hours 33 minutes
- 8 hours is ideal for me
- Time to bed:
- Massage – 10:51 pm
- No treatment – 12:15 am
- 11:30pm is ideal for me
- Total sleep time:
- Massage – 7 hours 9 minutes
- No treatment – 7 hours 9 minutes
- 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
- Sleep onset latency:
- Massage – 7.14 minutes
- No treatment – 10.71 minutes
- quicker is better
- Wake after sleep onset:
- No treatment – 13.57 minutes
- Massage – 16.43 minutes
- less is better
- Rise time:
- No treatment – 7:51 am
- Massage – 6:24 am
- 7:30am is ideal for me
- Sleep quality:
- No treatment – 4.43/5
- Massage – 4.14/5
- more is better
- Sleep efficiency:
- Massage – 94.70%
- No treatment – 94.70%
- higher is better
AND THE WINNER IS…
With a count of 5.5 points to 3.5 points, the no treatment week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after I had three massages.
The massages definitely seemed to help on the days that I had them, but the improvements didn’t really generalise to subsequent nights. What was a lot better on the massage week was how early I went to sleep at night and got out of bed in the morning. This was surprising because massage shouldn’t lead to any changes in my biological clock as far as I know.
What getting a massage did seem to do was relax me a lot and reduce physical tension on the days I had one, and as a result fell asleep earlier and quicker at night-time. By going to bed earlier, I was then able to get out of bed earlier the next morning.
IS GETTING REGULAR MASSAGES A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?
IS IT EFFECTIVE?
It depends. It didn’t improve my sleep quality in comparison to regular exercise the week before. It did help me to fall asleep early and quickly though, which is good for people with sleep onset insomnia or people who want to sleep earlier so that they can get up earlier in the mornings. This would be especially helpful for people who always feel rushed in the morning, or for people who want to exercise or meditate in the morning before work.
I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 15/25.
CAN IT BE APPLIED?
It can, but it would get expensive very quickly. A 60-minute massage in the CBD in Melbourne ranges from $60 to $95 and can be even more at day spas. Becuase the improvements didn’t seem to last beyond that night for my sleep unless you have a partner who is good at giving massages and would mind giving you one every night, there are probably cheaper and more accessible strategies for you to use if you want to improve your sleep.
I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 10/25.
IS IT SCIENTIFIC?
Massage has been found to have sleep benefits in infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems, with 15 minutes of massage before bedtime over a month leading to less sleep delay behaviours and quicker times to sleep than infants and toddlers who were read bedtime stories (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001). They were also observed to be more alert and active during the day and had more positive moods by the end of the study than the children who were read bedtime stories (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001).
A systematic review in 2000 by Richards, Gibson and Overton-McCoy looked at 22 articles on the impact of massage in acute and critical care. The most significant improvement was found in anxiety levels, with 80% reporting a significant reduction in perceived tension or anxiety scores. 70% of the original studies found that massage produced physiological relaxation, 30% found that it reduced pain, but the impact of massage on sleep was inconclusive (Richards, Gibson & Overton-McCoy, 2000).
I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 32/50.
Overall, using massages as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 15/25 + 10/25 + 32/50 =
WHAT I RECOMMEND
If you are feeling physically tense or carry a lot of stress in your body, shoulders or neck, getting a massage can feel great, help you relax and reduce your anxiety during the day. It may lead well to a shorter sleep onset and an earlier sleep time at night too and is better than reading a bedtime story for infants and young toddlers. It helped me get to bed earlier too, so if anxiety, physical tension, and falling asleep at the start of the night are a problem for you, getting a massage is definitely worth trying.
Hyper-arousal is a big factor in insomnia, so finding various ways to reduce your arousal levels is important if you want to improve your sleep. Massage is one way to do this, but there are cheaper and more accessible ways to do this too. Unless you do happen to live with someone who wants to help out by giving you a massage regularly in the evenings. Tell them The Sleep Detective said it would help, or take turns so that you can both benefit from the potential stress-reducing benefits of massage.
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