Tossing and Turning?  How Massage Can Help Fight Insomnia

Whether you're a chronic insomniac or just have occasional sleep problems, regular massage may be one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep. Massage therapy addresses many of the common causes of insomnia, such as pain, stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also treat other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome.

How Can Massage Help Treat Insomnia?

The harder you try to fall asleep, the more elusive it becomes. If you’re managing a health condition, it can be more challenging still. Thankfully, massage can help the body and brain relax, and address a variety of psychological and physiological symptoms. Let’s look at the most common causes of insomnia and how massage can help prevent another sleepless night.

A woman rubs her neck while working from a laptop.
Back pain and a stiff neck are common complaints that lead to a sleepness night.

Aches and Pains

Pain is the most common reason people seek out massage therapy. It's also one of the major causes of insomnia, which affects roughly 10 million Filipinos. If you're having difficulty sleeping, you'll be relieved to know that massage can help. Massage is a proven technique for improving sleep for people with many health conditions, such as:

  • Sciatica: Sciatica is not a disease, but rather a group of symptoms, characterized by lower back pain that radiates down through the legs. The condition is caused by damage to the sciatic nerve. While massage cannot reverse neuropathic damage, it can offer relief from sciatica symptoms, easing you into a better night's rest.
  • Tension headache : The brain is a complex, delicate organ that controls the rest of your body’s functions. When it’s under stress, you may end up with a tension headache that interferes with sleep. If you are prone to evening tension headaches, try a therapeutic massage for your scalp and neck. The firm pressure and circular strokes can relieve the headache, calm down the mind, and help you drift off to sleep.
  • Fibromyalgia: Many fibromyalgia patients suffer from insomnia. Massage therapy for fibromyalgia involves using gentle pressure that increases gradually over the course of several sessions. An analysis of six studies demonstrated short-term improvement of fibromyalgia symptoms with a weekly massage.
  • Stiff neck: A stiff neck is a common side effect of modern living. Hours spent staring at a screen take a toll on the muscles, connective tissue, and tendons of the neck. A massage can reduce stiffness and help improve the range of motion in your stiff neck. This allows you to move more comfortably and fluidly as you try to sleep.

Anxiety, Stress, and Depression

Massage therapy helps release endorphins in the brain — those feel-good chemicals that also work as natural relief for many common mental health issues, such as:

  • Stress: Stress can keep us awake, even when we are so tired that our eyes burn with fatigue. Massage helps by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It also releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Together, these effects reduce stress and help you relax more fully into sleep.
  • Anxiety: Whether you have a full-blown anxiety disorder or just worry too much, anxiety can keep you awake. Massage can alleviate anxiety in several ways. It reduces muscle tension and slows your heart rate, which are frequent symptoms of anxiety. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol which helps reduce anxiety naturally.
  • Depression is associated with poor sleep quality, which can then further depress your mood. A massage can help you sleep better during depression, as it increases serotonin and dopamine, both natural anti-depressants. It is one of the most common non-pharmacological treatments of depression. Getting good quality sleep can also enhance your mood.
A woman frowns while trying to fall asleep.
Around 10 million Filipinos suffer from insomnia.

Sleep Disorders

Insomnia is just one of many sleep disorders. Millions of Filipinos suffer from other sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. Research has found that massage therapy can help people with these ailments sleep better too.

  • Sleep apnea: This occurs when the tongue and throat relax so much that they obstruct breathing during sleep. This causes sleep apnea patients to wake up intermittently, which can lead to daytime exhaustion. Massage has previously been shown to help people stay asleep longer, with one study showing that it increased the average duration of sleep by one hour. For sleep apnea patients, this means less time lying awake while their bodies try to adjust to the condition's effects.
  • Narcolepsy: A case study showed that sleep quality improved by 1100% for a woman suffering from narcolepsy. Further research is needed to investigate the effect on sleep patterns. But if you suffer from narcolepsy, you may find a relaxing massage helps prevent a sleepless night.
  • Restless leg syndrome: Studies have indicated that massage therapy can reduce the symptoms of patients with restless leg syndrome and improve their quality of life.

What Type of Massage is Best for Insomnia?

There are hundreds of types of massage available. So, which type of massage should you choose for sleepless nights? The answer depends on your specific symptoms, the condition you are trying to treat, and your general health. You can discuss your health with your massage therapist (masahista) beforehand; they will help you match the best massage to your symptoms. Some of the proven massage techniques for insomnia and its underlying causes follow:

A woman relaxes while receiving a massage.
Massage can help sooth body and mind, leading to a better night’s sleep.

Swedish Massage

For general relaxation, Swedish massage works best for anxiety and stress relief. It is a gentle massage, using long strokes with pressure ranging from light to medium. You can expect to feel relaxed and perhaps even drowsy during this type of massage. It is often paired with aromatherapy for a deeply relaxing effect. Swedish massage also works well for people with fibromyalgia, due to the soft touch of the masahista. The stress relief from massage can also decrease your perception of pain.

A woman massages a person’s upper back.
Swedish massage helps treat anxiety and depression, two common causes of insomnia.

Deep Tissue

Deep tissue massage uses more pressure than a Swedish massage; therefore, it’s more effective for releasing tight muscles, stiff joints, and pain relief. People who suffer from arthritis, sciatica, stiff neck, and back pain may reap greater benefits from a deep tissue massage.

A woman gives a man a Thai Foot Massage.
Foot massage aids in relaxation and may offer relief from restless leg syndrome.

Foot Massage

People with restless leg syndrome may benefit from massage that targets the lower limbs, such as Thai Foot Massage and reflexology. A vigorous massage can help reduce symptoms such as throbbing, pins and needles, and aching legs and feet.

A man receives a neck massage in the office.
Office Syndrome Therapy massage can help relieve the aches and pains caused by sitting at a desk all day.

Office Syndrome Therapy

Office Syndrome Therapy helps alleviate the painful symptoms that come from a long day at your desk. Stiff neck, tension headaches, and lower back pain are treated with intense, therapeutic massage techniques. With fewer aches and pains, you have less chance of a sleepless night.

Hilot Massage

Hilot is a form of traditional Filipino massage or masahe. It involves the manipulation of the muscles and joints by a practiced masahista. This helps soothe ache and pains in the body. Warmed banana leaves promote relaxation and release muscle tension.

Home Service Massage

Traditionally, massage takes place in a spa with soft music playing in the background. But you can book a home service massage, and get treated without the commute. The notorious traffic in the Philippines, especially cities like Manila and Cebu City, can certainly reverse the stress relief of massage. Also, many people feel more comfortable in their homes, which can aid in relaxation. You can also drift straight to sleep, in your own bed with a home service massage.

A woman uses her elbow to massage a woman lying on a massage table.
A home service massage lets you drift to sleep from the comfort of your own bed.

Sleep Better Tonight

Sleep is important to recharge your body and mind. A massage can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and promoting relaxation before sleep. If you suffer insomnia due to chronic pain, the good news is that studies show that massage can improve your quality of sleep. Schedule a regular home service massage to leave your sleepless nights behind.

A note on safety: If you suffer from chronic illness or injury, ask your doctor if there are any types of massage you should avoid. They may also be able to recommend a masahista who specializes in treating people with injuries or other conditions.