Rest easy by making massage a part of your life
JOYCE MCNEILL is a high-energy person. But five
years ago, she found herself constantly exhausted, and didn't know
"Regardless of when I went to bed, I was always tired," McNeill
She was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition marked by the
narrowing of the airways during sleep, causing a person to
semiconsciously wake throughout the night. Today, a machine keeps
her airways open during sleep.
While her sleep apnea treatment helped, McNeill still wasn't
getting a full night's sleep. So, when she had back surgery two
years ago and her orthopedic surgeon suggested that regular massage
might help her back and her sleeping, she was willing to try
He was right, she says. "It's really been beneficial," McNeill
says. "The big difference is that my muscles are more relaxed." And
that, she notes, helps her fall back to sleep easily should she
awake in the night.
McNeill is not alone. Many people are using massage as a way to
help them get a better night's sleep-something health experts say
is necessary for good health.
Why Sleep Matters
"Sleep provides a vital function," says Lawrence Epstein, M.D.,
author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good
Night's Sleep (McGraw Hill, 2006) and chief medical officer
for Sleep HealthCenters. "It's when wrow and repair the body."
He explains that people who are chronically sleep-deprived have
a reduced ability to perform cognitive tasks and an increased risk
of workplace and automobile accidents.
Research also shows that sleep deprivation may be leading to
significant health problems, such as obesity, cardiovascular
disease and diabetes, Dr. Epstein says.
"People aren't just feeling sleepy, they are actually harming
themselves," he says. "Several studies have suggested that people
who get short amounts of sleep even have greater mortality-that is,
shorter life spans-than people who get more sleep."
Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and author
of The Cortisol Connection, (Hunter House, 2002)
notes that cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone, is about 50
percent higher in people who get only six hours of sleep a
Increased cortisol levels, he says, are connected to increased
hunger, problems with blood sugar, high levels of abdominal fat,
fatigue and depression.
How Massage Can Help
So how can massage help you get your cortisol levels
"You're less likely to have stress interfering with your sleep,"
Dr. Talbott says. "There are some good studies that show that
massage can actually reduce some of the stress hormone
Joe Bob Smith, a staff member at the National Holistic Institute
in Studio City, Calif., and a massage therapist, says much of the
research on massage isn't detailed enough to explain the exact
processes, but anecdotally, he sees the impact.
"People who have sleep disorders typically don't get rested when
they sleep," Smith explains. During a massage, they go into a deep
state of relaxation, and rest, which can positively affect the body
similar to sleep.
The massage, he says, encourages
relaxation that's otherwise missing in their lives.
"It's essentially affecting the hormone levels," Smith says.
"Studies have shown that massage increases serotonin, which
increases the melatonin and helps circadian rhythms to reset."
McNeill, who enjoys massages a couple times a month, notices the
difference. "I think my body is much more in tune," she says,
adding that she often falls asleep on the table.
As the practice of massage has progressed, Smith says, more
forms of massage have developed, including hot stone massage,
and cranial sacral
therapy. No matter the approach, the goal is improved health
and wellness. "Pure relaxation massage has its benefits," Smith
says. "And one of them is sleep."
-By Stephanie R. Conner