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Falling asleep during a massage is nothing unusual. But have you ever wondered why it happens?
And does this make you think if massages can be a solution to manage sleep disorders and ensure a good night’s sleep consistently? If your answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes,’ then you’re at the right place, as we will decode the mystery below.
So, grab a cup of coffee and dive in!
Well, it’s no secret that really good massage therapy can make you feel sleepy, and you may end up taking a nap on the massage table itself!
At the most basic level, this can be credited to an overwhelming feeling of relaxation. And this ‘relaxation’ you feel during a professional massage has much to do with how your brain and body function. So, let us now walk you through the science of a therapeutic massage making you feel asleep.
The massage therapy you undergo at a massage parlor or at home by a professional massage therapist is often a deep tissue massage. This means the professional targets the soft tissues of your body, like the skin, muscles, connective tissues, ligaments, and tendons, to relieve pressure and tension.
But there are different types of massages, and depending on the type of body massage you opt for, massage therapists may use a combination of long strokes and vibrations. They may also involve kneading as well as tapping with the application of warmth. But no matter the techniques used, the goal of a relaxing massage is to aid in stress relief, pain relief, and boost your overall health.
As you may have already understood, a deep tissue massage session (or any other type of massage) involves the application of pressure and strokes. And all the magic lies in this touch!
According to experts, the human touch acts as stimulation for proper sleep regulation. What happens is that the pressure applied to your body enhances the release of certain feel-good hormones, which signal the hypothalamus (located below the brain) to work more actively.
And the hypothalamus controls sleep function, among other things, which is why deep tissue massages are known for inducing sleep.
So far, we’ve talked about how deep massages trigger the release of sleep-inducing hormones. But what are these hormones, and how do they function? Let’s find out!
You may not be a medical expert, but there are high chances you’ve already heard about serotonin and its role in inducing sleep. Primarily secreted by the brain and some organs in the stomach, serotonin plays a crucial part in regulating mood, diet, motor skills, and of course, sleep.
When released by the brain, this hormone taps the hypothalamus, which brings the onset of the sleepy feeling. In fact, your body should ideally experience a surge of serotonin production during bedtime, which will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep during the night. And massages can be an effective way to increase the natural serotonin production in the body.
Besides, an increase in the level of this hormone can make your body relax, enhance your mood, and improve your appetite.
Although dopamine isn’t directly related to sleep like serotonin, it’s still a critical factor that can help you sleep easily. It’s basically a ‘feel-good’ hormone that can reduce stress levels, thereby enhancing the overall feeling of relaxation in the human body. Not only does it reinforce the effects of serotonin, but it makes for a suitable environment (internally) to make you fall asleep.
You can increase the level of natural dopamine in the body by engaging in ‘pleasurable activities,’ such as sexual intercourse, working out, and getting a massage.
When you get a massage, your body responds by increasing the production of endorphins by the brain and hypothalamus. And these hormones serve as opioid receptors to reduce the sensation of pain, inflammation, stress, and anxiety.
This is one of the primary reasons you experience deep relaxation during a deep tissue massage. Moreover, the increased production of endorphins can particularly help people who find it difficult to sleep due to stress, anxiety, muscle aches, and muscle tension.
Besides, enhanced endorphin secretion may counter the effects of insomnia and mood disorders.
Oxytocin, like endorphins, is secreted as a bodily response to physical touch, and just like the latter, it can boost the feeling of relaxation. That is to say, oxytocin, too, can help people who experience difficulty sleeping due to anxiety, stress, and even sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome.
Acetylcholine is secreted by the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the autonomic nervous system), which controls many activities when your body is relaxed. And getting a full body massage can be one of the most effective ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger the release of this hormone.
Once the hormone starts circulating in your blood, it can bring down your heart rate, and blood pressure, promote relaxation in the gut, and induce sleep.
Another reason you may feel extremely groggy or even sleep hours post-massage is the release of adenosine. Now, this isn’t really a hormone but a by-product of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used by the cells to create energy.
When you get a deep tissue massage, you essentially make your muscles undergo an extensive workout, and they use up more ATP. And after the session, the muscles go into recovery mode, eliminating the adenosine produced. That’s why you may feel tired, sleepy, and groggy hours after the session or until the muscles are completely recovered.
We understand that it may not always be possible to get a professional massage. And this is especially true if you’re looking to include massages as a bedtime ritual for alleviating sleep problems. So, here are some tips and tricks to give your body the relaxation it needs to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for long hours during the night.
Applying downward strokes originating from the upper back on both sides of the spine can be an easy and effective way to replicate the effects of professional massages. Simultaneously, press your palms gently and move to the lower back.
You can also apply circular motions by pressing your palms gently as you go from the upper to the lower back.
If you’re new to massages, it may be a better idea to apply moderate pressure instead of going all-out to get a deep-tissue massage. Moderate pressure can be more than adequate to trigger the effective release of many of the hormones mentioned above, as well as physically reduce muscle tension and aches.
Remember that applying too much pressure without proper knowledge may increase the risk of injuries or aggregate pain.
It can be difficult to apply and maintain the required pressure on dry skin, so it’s often recommended to use an oil or moisturizer as a lubricant. However, make sure you don’t use anything that doesn’t suit your skin.
You don’t need to indulge in long massage sessions to sleep like a baby through the night. Even 15-20 minutes of a gentle massage session can do the needful.
Besides, you will get an idea about the duration of the massage session to achieve the desired results once you get into the habit of massaging your strained body parts at bedtime.
If you’re looking to get professional massages frequently, you can check out spas, massage centers, and even gyms in your vicinity. Aside from that, many chiropractors and physical therapists use different types of massages as a part of their treatment plan.
However, it’s important to ensure that the center or professional you opt for has the required, valid licenses to give you the massages. Getting messages from non-licensed professionals will invariably end up doing more bad than good.
And that’s all we had for you today!
Given the benefits of massages, it’s not unusual for people to consider them as a way to treat sleep disorders resulting from physical or mental ailments. However, we’d still advise getting in touch with a professional to ensure it’s the right path for you.
That’s because some conditions like cancer and blood clots may be considered restrictive for getting a massage. Besides, different types of massages, like aromatherapy, Swedish massage, hot stone massage, etc., render different benefits. And only by talking to a professional will you understand the best option for your exact needs.