Massage for Insomnia

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Massage for Insomnia

Insomnia is not classified as a disease itself, it is rather thought of as a symptom of other issues. Roughly one third of people will experience insomnia on occasion whilst closer to 5 percent of people will actually need some kind of formal treatment for it. There are three main causes of insomnia:

  1. Primary Sleep Disorders – These can include restless leg syndrome, inadequate sleep syndrome, central sleep apnoea and circadian rhythm disorders.
  2. Secondary Insomnia – Which occurs as the result of a range of medical or psychiatric issues and due to the chronic usage of alcohol and drugs.
  3. Idiopathic Insomnia – Sleeplessness without a Known cause, can also be labelled as childhood onset insomnia.

Many people that suffer from insomnia can not help strong feelings of anger and frustration about not being able to sleep and because of these feelings, the cycle of finding sleep difficult is worsened. This downward spiral of worrying about not sleeping and this very worrying making it harder to sleep is a common experience of insomnia sufferers. Some people have found it helpful to relax their expectations of having a perfect 6-8 hours of sleep every night. The relaxing of expectations can help to reduce any additional stress that may be causing the sleepless nights.

How can Massage Help with Insomnia?

It’s all about the chemicals! When you are stressed or anxious it is usually associated with the release of certain ‘stress’ chemicals into your body such as Adrenaline, Cortisol and Norepinephrine. These are all released from the adrenal glands and they are all more or less designed to arouse you and prepare you to deal with something that requires heightened energy levels and awareness. Adrenaline and Norepinephrine are more fast acting whilst cortisol takes longer to release due to a complex interaction between several glands. High cortisol levels can inhibit the immune system, raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels, contribute to weight gain, decrease sex drive, produce acne and much more. Needless to say you want to maintain a good balance of cortisol in your system and prolonged periods of stress must be managed and/or avoided in order to achieve this. As I’ve said before, stress isn’t bad but chronic stress is and this is what we are trying to avoid. Don’t avoid stress. Natural healthy stress is often coupled with excitement and we all need a bit of excitement in our lives!

So coming back to massage. Massage is a natural way to activate the para-sympathetic nervous systems which knows how to bring the hormonal levels back into balance (I.e. It knows how to relax) In my experience, this takes 45-60 minutes for most people. Shorter massages do not seem to have the same effect and in the case of some highly stressed people, they may need 90 minutes to fully relax and let go. That’s when the magic happens:

  • Their breathing will slow down
  • Their heart rate will also drop
  • The digestive system starts back up again – the client may have more saliva in their mouth and their stomach may start to gurgle
  • Their previously tight muscles will soften to an appropriate tone
  • They will notice less thoughts in their mind
  • They will feel more at peace
  • They will start to notice things in the present (the feeling of the table, the sounds in the room, their breathing, distant sounds, etc.)

There are factors that will help this to happen more quickly, these are:

  • Trust – The person trusts the therapist
  • Quietness – The environment is reasonably quiet
  • Temperature – The room is at a comfortable or slightly warm temperature
  • Duration – The massage is performed long enough (at least 45 minutes)
  • Pace – This is very important for relaxation massage. The strokes should be light to medium and very, very slow. This will relax a person much quicker! An exception to this is ‘Jostling’ which can also be very relaxing as it is the same way a mother relaxes her baby by gently rocking them back and forward.
  • Areas Massaged – I have found the most effective areas to quickly relax someone are the feet, hands and head. When massaged slowly and consistently people will find it difficult not to relax.
  • Conscious Breathing – Often at the start of my sessions, I work with some conscious, deep and slow breathing

What’s the Catch?

The catch is that whilst massage can definitely bring you quickly to a more relaxed state and thus help with your insomnia. It is your lifestyle (including your work) and your reactions to it – more importantly – that actually caused that state. So massage needs to be part of your insomnia management plan but it can’t be the only part (unless you are really rich 😉 Other factors which are really important to help out your insomnia are:

  1. Addressing Common Stressors – Is your job actually sustainable? Or is it just that you are taking it too seriously. It’s important to know the answers to these questions.
  2. Diet – Are you eating lots of organic fruit and veg, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and pulses and minimising known inflammatory foods?
  3. Exercise – DO YOU MOVE EVERY DAY!? Not just from the computer to the fridge!
  4. Daily Routines – Have you established a morning and/or evening routine that relaxes and empowers you?
  5. Nature Therapy – Spending time in nature or with pets is a simple way to de-stress 🙂

Massage is an excellent way to help you relax and increase the chance of you getting a good night of rest. It is a natural, holistic, drug-free approach that works with your bodies own systems in order to help you achieve balance. If you have been suffering insomnia for quite some time it is definitely worth trying a weekly massage for a month or so to test if this does indeed increase the amount of sleep you get.

How can I book a massage with you to help with my Insomnia?

Call 0449 264 980 or 

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Remedial Massage Therapist

Oak McIlwain is a Remedial Massage Therapist from Fremantle, Western Australia. He has been refining his massage skills for over 7 years after his corporate exodus. You can read his Bio or find him on or Facebook

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