Any medical professional will tell you how vital sleep is to maintaining good health, allowing our bodies to restore and replenish themselves after a long day. Yet it is estimated that more than 3.3 million Canadians suffer from some form of insomnia. Lack of sleep can result in fatigue, disturbance in mood or memory, and an inability to focus and concentrate. It has also been linked to serious long-term health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
While massage therapy alone does not necessarily treat the root cause of insomnia, it has been shown to be effective in treating associated symptoms of the conditions, such as increased stress levels and chronic musculoskeletal pain, as well as helping to increase serotonin levels, which can contribute to more restful sleep.
The neuroscience of sleep is very complex and involves a numbers of different components, one of the most important of which is serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which, when synthesized in the pineal gland, produces melatonin, a hormonal substance which helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms.
In addition to initiating sleep onset, melatonin also replenishes cells, strengthens immune response and helps to regulate body temperature. Hormonal imbalances can limit both serotonin and melatonin production and lead to insomnia. Cortisol, the hormone in the body which governs stress, is released in increased amounts as a result of sleep deprivation, which can increase blood pressure, decrease bone density and weaken connective tissue. The disorder can also be brought on by number of other factors, including changes in diet and lifestyle, and psychological issues, such as stress and depression. Physical discomfort from injuries or chronic conditions can also disrupt sleep patterns, as can the use of substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and some prescription medications.
Insomnia also affects the body’s autonomic function, which can result in increased blood glucose levels, while many studies have also demonstrated links between sleep problems and chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
While a patient with recurring sleep issues should be advised to consult a medical professional in order to address the root cause of the problem, massage can still be very beneficial as a complementary treatment in a number of ways.
As students in therapeutic massage courses understand, numerous studies have demonstrated the ability of massage therapy to increase a patient’s serotonin levels, which can help to increase melatonin production and aid more restful sleep.
Massage therapy can also be beneficial in treating some of the other symptoms associated with insomnia. Light relaxing techniques such as Swedish massage have been proven to lower cortisol levels, and can also help to lower blood pressure, as can other treatments such as myofascial trigger point therapy. Various massage techniques can also help to treat chronic physical conditions which accompany the weakening of the musculoskeletal system, such as fibromyalgia.
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