Nothing is more stressful than going to bed at night only to find yourself staring at the wall for hours on end.
But the worst things happen once the sun rises: Tired and lacking sleep, your work productivity is at an all-time low while your risk of falling asleep while driving increases dramatically.
Sleep disorders are more pervasive than we give them credit for. Latest statistics shows that 50 to 70 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders, primarily insomnia. While for others sleeplessness is something that happens occasionally, most people experience it on a regular basis, affecting every facet of their daily lives.
Why science says massage is great for sleep
Sleep deprivation is usually a sign of an increased level of pain chemicals in the body. To counteract this, your brain needs to release anti-pain chemicals called serotonin.
And here comes the best part: You don’t need to take medications to get a regular dose of these feel-good chemicals.
In a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 30 middle-aged adults with chronic back pain each received a 30-minute massage twice a week within a 5-week period. During evaluation, all the respondents who received massage reported improved sleep as well as reduced pain, anxiety, and depression–all of which are linked to insomnia.
Massage is so effective that the American College of Physicians recently included it as one of their first-line recommendations for low back pain. But no thanks to our busy schedules, most of us don’t have the time nor the money to get a regular massage.
Fortunately, there are massage techniques you can easily try at home without pestering your loved ones. Best of all, they’re free and don’t require anything other than your hands and sheer will to keep insomnia at bay.
Note: There are many factors that might contribute to your sleep problems. It can range from the type of mattress you’re sleeping in to more serious medical conditions that should be addressed with the help of your physician. The following massage techniques are meant to complement, not replace, conventional therapies for insomnia.
With as much as 15,000 nerves, our feet are the most sensitive parts of the body. By using relaxation techniques like massage, you can stimulate these nerves and experience a calming effect that extends to other parts of the body.
Science seems to agree. For instance, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science involved patients with liver cirrhosis who received foot massage for 14 days. At the end of the study, those in the massage group experienced significant improvement in their sleep quality compared to the control group.
Foot reflexology, a type of massage originating from ancient Chinese medicine, also has scientific research to back it up. In 2008, Kunz and Kunz collated 168 research studies about foot reflexology from all over the world, most of which are from journals published in Korea and China. Based on their analysis, foot reflexology can induce deep relaxation, decrease blood pressure, and prevent anxiety attacks.
Step 1: Apply relaxing strokes on the foot. Squeeze, knead, press, or whatever feels good to you. Locate the solar plexus at the center of the sole, just below the ball of the foot. Press it with your thumb for 5 to 10 seconds. The solar plexus is a reflex point which offers profound relaxation when stimulated.
Step 2: “Walk” your thumb along the inner side of the foot, from the base of the heel to the top of the big toe, pausing occasionally to press specific reflex points with the tip of your thumb or forefinger. Focus on the following areas:
Top of each toe – corresponds to the head/brain; helps to achieve mental clarity and positive thinking when stimulated.
Center of big toe – connected to the pituitary gland which controls the hormone secretion of all the other glands in the body.
Outer side of big toe – corresponds to the pineal gland which secretes melatonin, a hormone responsible for our body’s sleep and wake cycles; helps induce sleep when stimulated.
Ridge of toes – releases tension in the neck and shoulders when massaged.
Ball of foot – linked to the chest and lungs; calms breathing if stimulated.
Step 3: Re-apply the relaxation technique you used in Step 1. Finish it up by pressing the solar plexus for another 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat on the other foot.
Tip: For best results, immerse your feet in a homemade foot soak solution for 15 to 20 minutes prior to the massage. A tub of warm water with a few drops of a soothing essential oil (preferably lavender) will not only help you relax but also soften dry, cracked skin on your feet.
To restore the balance, you need to boost the production of the ying energy and disperse the yang energy. You can do it by massaging specific acupoints in the head where these energies are concentrated.
Step 1: Using your middle finger, press and knead the Bai Hui acupoint located in the middle of the top of your head. It’s the soft spot which is also at the midpoint of the line that connects both ears. This acupoint has the most concentration of yang and stimulating it can calm the spirit, soothe the liver, and control the level of yang energy. Press the spot approximately 100 times.
Step 2: With the tip of the middle fingers, knead the pair of Zhan Zhu acupoints located at the inner ends of the eyebrows. Do this 30 to 50 times.
Step 3: While your eyes are closed, wipe the orbits of the eyes from the inner to the outer corners using the lateral sides of the middle segments of your index fingers. Start with the upper portion then proceed to the lower part of orbits. Perform this gentle massage 20 to 30 times.
Step 4: Rub your palms against each other until they’re hot enough. Cover your eyes with your warm palms for up to a minute. Finish it up by applying light kneading massage to the orbits for up to 10 times.
Stress affects important muscles in the body, and that includes our face.
Massage is one of the most effective ways to decompress your facial muscles. By releasing the tension and stimulating blood flow, a simple massage can boost the production of collagen which, in turn, keeps your face healthy and glowing. Best of all, gentle face massage calms your mind and body, making it easier for you to sleep soundly.
In a November 2007 study published in the Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 6 female volunteers were assigned into two groups–one received 20-min. foot massage while the other enjoyed 20-min.facial massage. Although both groups reported favorable results, those in the face massage group experienced a more significant decrease in systolic blood pressure and increase in sleepiness.
Tip: Too much facial massage may cause breakouts for some people with sensitive skin. Be on the safe side and avoid overstimulation of the skin by limiting the facial massage to less than 20 minutes.
Step 1: Using some of your fingertips, apply gentle downward strokes on the sides of your face from the forehead all the way down to your chin. Keep the pressure light and the movements slow to allow your mind to relax. You can pull the muscles at the bottom of your cheeks to release the tension.
Step 2: Move your fingers towards the middle of the forehead. Apply the same downward strokes from the forehead to the bridge of the nose. Do this a couple of times before applying slow, gentle massage from the sides of the nose down to the cheekbones.
Step 3: Close your eyes and using the same fingers, massage the orbit of the eyes from the inner to the outer corners. Make sure you’ve removed your contact lenses before doing this. Apply the same gentle strokes to the eyebags.
Step 4: Massage your jaws with your fingers using downward strokes, shaking your fingers from side to side to help release the tension. Get a little bit closer to the ears and apply the same massage along the jawline. Do it for 7 to 8 times.
Step 5: Apply circular strokes to your temples. Do the same massage as you move down to the cheeks and towards the muscles surrounding the ears. Gently pull the ears downwards with your hands.
Step 6: Do the same circular strokes on the chin. Start at the middle and slowly move towards the jawline and back again. Finish it up with scalp massage. You can also use a soothing essential oil as a massage lubricant to heighten the relaxing experience.
Luisito E. Batongbakal Jr is the founder and content strategist of Calm Panda, the place to be to learn simple DIY relaxation tips. A former nurse who suffered from all sorts of body pain, he is now on a mission to help others live more comfortably. When not indulging in massage, he writes for different health publications to change people’s lives, one article at a time.