Having Trouble Sleeping? How Massage Therapy Can Help

Not many things can refresh and rejuvenate your body like a good night’s sleep. Ignoring or trying to endure insomnia is like driving your car every day without ever changing the oil, putting air in your tires, or getting any other preventative maintenance. Sooner or later, you’re going to break down.

Healthy sleep can lead to many benefits, including:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increased blood supply for muscle growth
  • Repaired internal organs and tissues
  • Triggered hormone release, including growth hormones

Healthy sleep and dreams can also strengthen your mind in ways such as:

  • Bringing emotions to the surface for conscious processing
  • Restoring mental energy for daytime performance
  • Developing motor skills while sleeping

According to a Harvard Medical School study, many people “rehearse” motor skills during sleep. Whether you’re trying to type faster, perfect your golf swing, or just get through your day with ease, sleep is an essential part of success in waking life.

Can Massage Help Me Sleep Better?

Researchers have shown massage can promote healthy sleep for:

  • People of all ages, from infants to the elderly
  • Babies with dyssomnia, a sleep condition characterized by an inability to get to sleep or stay asleep
  • Cancer patients—especially breast cancer survivors
  • People recovering from heart surgery
  • Those with pain in their lower backs, hands, etc.
  • People who experience migraines
  • People with restless legs syndrome
  • Health care professionals
  • People with mental health conditions

While getting a massage, many people may drift off to sleep on the massage table. Your massage therapist isn’t likely to be surprised by this behavior; it happens all the time. They know massage encourages their clients’ minds to create delta waves, an essential part of sleep and dreams. Massage also helps to reduce pain, which can be a major cause of insomnia.

Studies show massage therapy can equal better sleep. A team at the University of Miami School of Medicine Touch Research Institute found pregnant women reported improved sleep quality (among other benefits) after a five-week course of massage. With only two 20-minute sessions a week, they felt less anxiety, slept better, and eventually gave birth to babies with fewer postnatal complications.

Another Touch Research Institute study discovered massage had similar sleep-enhancing results for people with lower back pain. They studied a group of people with lower back pain who received two 30-minute massage sessions a week for five weeks. These people felt less pain, anxiety, and depression, along with enhanced flexibility and more restful sleep.

What Is the Science Behind Massage’s Effects on Sleep?

Touch Research Institute researchers studied a group of 26 adults who received 15-minute chair massages twice a week for five weeks (and 24 who only relaxed in massage chairs). In addition to many other measurements, this research team conducted electroencephalogram (EEG) scans of study participants at the beginning and end of the five-week study. Those who received massages had decreased brain activity in the frontal alpha and beta regions. They also had less anxiety, lower levels of stress hormone cortisol, increased math abilities, and less job-related stress.

Beta waves indicate you are alert, thinking, and working. We create alpha waves when we relax and contemplate things. The people in the above study had lower levels of these brain waves, meaning they had a greater proportion of the other waves: theta and delta. You create theta waves when you’re drifting off to sleep or daydreaming. When you sleep, you create delta waves, which are smooth when you’re in a deep sleep and slightly spiked when you’re dreaming.

When you’re ready to go to sleep, your brain begins to shut off thoughts for the day. First, you might stop thinking about your to-do list and stop creating beta waves. Then, you clear your mind of these thoughts by entering a relaxing alpha state. Next, you feel yourself getting drowsy; you only feel the peaceful theta waves of oncoming sleep and forget about everything else. When you finally sink into sleep, nothing is left but your underlying delta waves.

Decreased alpha and beta wave activity accounts for the sleepiness many people feel during massage. With primarily theta and delta wave activity, you’ll likely feel the way you do when napping or hitting the snooze alarm before getting up. Theta and delta states indicate the border between sleep and waking; it’s no wonder those who receive massage report having an easier time getting to sleep at night—they have given their brains practice entering sleep states in their daytime massages.

What If My Mind Is Racing and I Can’t Sleep?

Many people find they can’t stop thinking and go to sleep. If anxiety and worry stop you from shutting down your mind and getting the restorative sleep you need, massage therapy may help. Many researchers have found massage lowers levels of anxiety and depression, allowing people to get the restful sleep their bodies crave.

Massage increases feel-good hormones such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, which can lead to increased feelings of relaxation. It also lowers the body’s levels of cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Massage therapists manipulate your body to send “everything is okay” signals to your mind, which then enters a peaceful state of relaxation, restoration, and higher immune function. When you relax with a massage, your body gets rid of cortisol, a hormone that can put your body in fight-or-flight mode. When you have decreased levels of cortisol, your body has more room to focus on healing and growth.

How Can I Utilize Massage to Get to Sleep Tonight?

If you have trouble getting to sleep, try to visit a massage therapist on a regular basis. You can relieve a large amount of anxiety and stress by making massage a part of your regular habits. The participants in studies from the Touch Research Institute experienced sleep improvements after just 15-minute chair massages. The benefits are likely to be greater with a typical hour-long massage therapy session.

While you’re waiting for your next massage therapy session, you can create a relaxing sleep environment for yourself with your own self-care massage routine. First, massage your hands using your favorite lotion or oil. Next, gently touch your forehead, temple, nose, and chin. Use the backs of your hands to soothe your neck and throat. Yawn, rub your jaw muscles, and gently tug your ears and earlobes. Stroke the area from the bridge of your nose to the top of your head, and finally rest your hands at your sides, ready to drift off into a relaxing, healthy night of sleep.


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  10. What is the function of the various brain waves? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/

6 Mental Health Benefits of Massage Therapy

Today’s medical researchers have found massage therapy can provide benefits to those who experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Experts have shown many types of massage therapy can be a great complement to psychotherapy for treating certain conditions. Here are some conditions massage therapy can have an effect on:

1. Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health issues, and both can negatively impact lives. Studies have shown massage therapy can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Researchers at Taiwan’s E-Da Hospital and College of Medicine reviewed 17 scientific studies involving 786 people. The findings showed massage had many positive benefits for people experiencing depression and led to a reduction in symptoms. At Japan’s Kyushu University, a team of experts found facial massage soothed participants’ physiological distress. They concluded that massage activated participants’ sympathetic nervous system, reducing their anxiety and improving their mood.

Before your next massage, ask your practitioner to help you choose treatments options that address your depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues.

2. Neurotransmitter and Hormone Balance

Researchers have shown massage therapy activates neurotransmitters that can decrease anxiety and lower stress hormone levels. At the University of Miami School of Medicine, researchers found massage therapy had positive effects on people who were experiencing a range of mental health issues, including depression, eating disorders, and stress. The research team found about a 30% increase in serotonin and dopamine levels in the study participants who underwent massage, as well as a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. These findings suggest massage was responsible for an increase in feel-good neurotransmitters and a decrease in stress.

3. Blood Pressure and Circulatory Issues

A massage therapist can help lower your heart rate as well as your systolic (pumping) and diastolic (resting) high blood pressure.

At Iran’s Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, a researcher compared two groups of 25 women. One group received 10-15 minutes of Swedish massage three times a week for a total of 10 sessions; the women in the other group relaxed in the same environment, but did not receive massages. The researchers found massage caused a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure that persisted for as many as three days after treatment.

A researcher at the University of South Florida studied the effects of back massage on hypertension (high blood pressure) and found blood pressure reductions in study participants who received massage. Those reductions lasted for two days after treatment.

If you experience high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about adding massage therapy to your current course of treatment. Though massage helps many people, it may not be an advised solution for everyone, especially if you have deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots). Make sure to talk to your physician before scheduling a massage appointment.

4. Alleviating Symptoms of Illness or Disease

People with life-threatening illnesses or diseases often experience anxiety and depression that can exacerbate their condition. Massage therapy can greatly increase quality of life, freeing up mental and physiological resources to fight off disease. Many physicians recommend massage as a complementary therapy to medical care for its healing power and low incidence of side effects.

At the Columbia University Medical Center, experts studied children with cancer and found massage therapy helped manage many side effects of cancer treatment, including pain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and reduced immune function.

A University of Miami research team found study participants with AIDS had less anxiety, stress, anger, and overall mood issues after receiving massage therapy and learning home care relaxation techniques. The people who were treated by massage therapists had lower norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter linked to depression) levels as compared to a control group.

5. Veterans’ Mental Health

Researchers recently published a paper in the journal Military Medicine describing the reintegration process for National Guard members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The researchers followed service members and their partners for eight weeks as part of a pilot program to develop treatments for returning veterans. They found massage therapy helped veterans relieve pain, irritability, tension, worry, anxiety, and depression.

At the Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center, clinical psychologist John Fortunato puts people experiencing posttraumatic stress through a rigorous and comprehensive regimen of therapies, including different types of massage. These therapies helped veterans turn off their hyperaroused survival mechanisms, learn to relax again, and get the healthy sleep their bodies needed. Of the 37 soldiers in the program, only two had to take medical discharges from service. Twelve of the service members returned to active duty.

6. Work-Related Stress in Health Care Professionals

Mayo Clinic researchers recently studied 38 nurses who received chair massages (one of the quickest and simplest forms of massage therapy) once a week for 10 weeks during work hours. The health care professionals who received massage therapy experienced a reduction in many stress-related symptoms, including joint and muscle pain, shoulder tension, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia.

No matter your line of work, regular massage therapy can increase your health, well-being, and stamina. Many organizations hire massage therapists to lower employee stress levels and improve productivity. Not only can a massage break feel good and improve morale, research shows it can also improve workplace efficiency.

Is Massage Therapy Right for You?

If you think massage therapy is right for you, check with your doctor to be sure. Find a licensed massage practitioner with specialized training for working with any preexisting conditions you may have, so the therapist can meet your particular needs and maximize the benefits massage therapy can provide. Share details of your medical history, tests, treatments, and any other relevant information with your massage therapist so your sessions can be adjusted accordingly.


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12 Popular Massage Techniques and How They Help You

Are you new to massage therapy? Whether you’re an experienced person looking to expand your self-care horizons or a massage newbie, you’ll likely be amazed by the number of available massage therapy techniques and practices and the benefits they can bring you.

For those of you trying massage therapy for the first time, or for those looking to explore new techniques for health and wellness, here’s 12 of the most popular massage and bodywork practices and some info on how they might benefit you:


Acupressure therapists use the same meridian system as acupuncture practitioners, but without the needles!

For more than 5,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have developed and refined this traditional healing art. Acupressurists, as they are called, use their hands to apply pressure to trigger points throughout the body. This technique is believed to unblock “stuck” body energy and open up the pathway for healing energy to return the mind and body to a state of wellness.

Acupressure has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, stress, and for beauty purposes. Acupression, for example, may improve the skin, tone facial muscles, and help the body relieve congestions.

Aromatherapy Massage

Ancient cultures across the globe have practiced massage and aromatherapy. Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian practitioners, for example, have incorporated these modalities into many of their medicinal traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these techniques not only for healing and relaxation but also for spiritual enlightenment. Massage therapists who combine massage and aromatherapy may provide clients with a deeper, more relaxing experience than a standard massage.

While you’re getting your massage, inhale your favorite scent or have your practitioner recommend one to meet your individual needs, such as lavender for stress and anxiety relief.

Chair Massage

Many people first experience the benefits of massage and bodywork in the form of chair massage. Chair massage therapists, sometimes spotted in shopping malls and airports, use special chairs that allow clients to remain fully clothed and mostly upright.

This often quick, soothing form of massage allows people to take a quick and healthful break from their busy day. Researchers have shown that even these short massage breaks reduce people’s heart rates, blood pressure, and, of course, stress and anxiety levels.

Many corporations have found that periodically offering chair massage as a benefit to their employees increases productivity, focus, and morale. In only 10-20 minutes, your staff can enjoy the stress relief, health benefits, and team-building experience of chair massage in the convenience of your workplace.

Chinese Massage

Chinese tui na massage practitioners employ rhythmic compression methods to free up and balance “qi” (body energy). These massage therapists combine energy work and meridian release elements of related practices like acupressure and acupuncture, without using any needles. Tui na also involves many of the rubbing and kneading techniques common to most Western massage styles.

Gua Sha

This ancient Chinese practice roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” Traditional practitioners of gua sha used bone, stone, jade, or horn implements to rub their clients’ oiled skin. Today, gua sha therapists tend to use rounded plastic tools to offer their clients a less painful and more modern hygienic experience. Gua sha practitioners use these implements to rub their clients’ backs and shoulders to increase circulation beneath the skin (often using a soothing, lubricating balm).

Medical researchers have found evidence that this simple technique encourages the body to release many powerful healing effects. As the body reabsorbs the blood from the treated areas (which often appear red and blotchy for a few days), it releases chemicals that fight infection, reduce inflammation, and protect cells.

Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massage therapists heat special stones in a sanitary solution and place them on their clients’ backs, in their palms, and even between their toes. Like the popular Swedish style of massage, hot stone massage therapists may use oils to lubricate their clients’ surface tissues before employing deep tissue techniques.

Your hot stone massage practitioner may even rub your muscles lengthwise with the heated stones to release even more tension.

Lomi Lomi

Traditional Hawaiian healers called “kahunas” employed massage techniques in conjunction with meditation, plant-based medicine, and breath work. Also sometimes referred to as Hawaiian temple medicine, lomi lomi massage can help you activate mana (life energy) to increase well-being, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure.

Myofascial Release

Connective tissues called fascia run throughout your entire body. They surround and support your muscles, which means they can inhibit range of motion when tightened by overuse, injury, or surgical recovery.
Unlike massage therapists, who work on muscles and soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners focus on fascial lengthening and softening to reduce pain and increase mobility.

Orthopedic Massage

Orthopedic massage practitioners focus on correcting malformed bones and muscles with massage therapy techniques. These therapists help their clients manage pain, achieve better alignment and posture, and improve joint function.


Reflexology therapists massage their clients’ hands and feet to activate inner healing. This practice bears many similarities to acupressure and acupuncture, but, again, without using any needles. Reflexology practitioners manipulate points on their patients’ bodies that correspond with internal organs.

This healing modality can trigger your autonomous nervous system and increase hormone production.


Named after its founder, Ida Rolf, this massage technique involves may involved a little more discomfort than some gentler styles. Also known as structural integration, this style of massage may greatly improve your posture and range of motion.

Rolfing practitioners assist their clients in achieving moderately difficult yoga-like poses to realign their musculoskeletal systems and bear their body weight better with proper posture.

Russian Massage

Modern Russian massage, sometimes called Russian sports massage, was once only available to athletes, the ill, and the injured. Russian (and Soviet) physicians advanced the science and practice of massage on the battlefield and in the sports arena. Russia, a comparatively massage-friendly nation, has provided some of the world’s top massage researchers and therapists.

Russian bath houses, called banyas, still offer traditional Russian massage venik (or “twigging”) treatments which involve hitting clients (gently) with oak or birch branches. However, modern Russian massage practitioners use their hands to relieve pain and increase range of motion with kneading, percussive, and even vibration techniques.

And There’s More!

Some consider Reiki a form of massage; others view it as energy- or bodywork. Like massage therapists, Reiki practitioners place their hands on their clients’ bodies; however, they don’t rub and knead soft tissues. Simply by placing their hands on a patient (for up to 10 minutes a position), Reiki masters are believed to be able to transmit healing energy and clear out negative thoughts and emotion.

Whether you choose to find a massage therapist for an intense, relaxing, spiritual, or practical massage style, remember you can always return to this site (and this article) to explore new and different massage therapy options. You can also click the relevant links to dig deeper into these types of massage to discover their history, medical science, and modern practice—as well as what to expect from your first massage session!


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