Most everyone knows that after a good night's sleep you feel refreshed, happier, and focused. But when you haven't had a good night's sleep, you feel more irritable, your appetite is skewed, and your brain just doesn't seem to work right. And your ability to sleep well (i.e. to fall asleep and then sleep soundly through the night) can be affected by several factors including stress, anxiety, depression, foods like caffeine or alcohol, smoking, certain medications, changes in your schedule, or poor sleep habits. Some of these factors can be altered somewhat easily, e.g. avoiding caffeine and then doing something relaxing before bedtime, but sometimes after a lot of effort it can feel like nothing is working. By this time, you should probably consider a natural therapy, such as massage.
Massage (performed by a registered massage therapist, of course!) is an excellent way to relax your muscles and help get your body into a rhythm that's more conducive to sleeping. Massage is useful for helping you sleep from the time you are a baby (if you've never heard of infant massage, look into it – it can offer a variety of other benefits too) to well into adulthood. Not just for recovering from athletic injuries, massage can reduce your stress, improve your circulation, release tension, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and even strengthen your immune system. If you are suffering from pain as well as having trouble sleeping, massage can help you with that as well: from back pain, to limb pain, to headaches.
Scientifically speaking, massage therapy will help you sleep by not only relieving you of stress and tension, but also by stimulating your brain to produce more serotonin. This endorphin, or 'feel good chemical', is normally produced to play a role in keeping your moods balanced and also helping to regulate your circadian rhythm, which has to do with your sleeping and waking cycles. When your serotonin levels are balanced everything is fine, but when they're out of whack a whole variety of things can happen, e.g. poor sleep, depression, and so on. Certain drugs can be offered to help boost your serotonin levels, but these drugs often also come with side effects. Luckily, massage therapy is a natural form of treatment and can boost your serotonin levels as a simple by-product of helping you relax.
Book at least a 60 minute massage (they usually go up to 2 hours in length) to ensure that the therapist has time to treat most of your body – tension can build in places that you're not even aware of. Then follow up the treatment with a nice bath using Epsom salts which are made of magnesium sulfate, a natural compound that will help to further relax your muscles, and bring on your much-needed sleep.
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc
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