We all know that we feel better after a good night’s sleep, but its importance goes beyond just boosting your mood or banishing dark circles under your eyes. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit many things including your state of mind, your heart function and even your weight.
In order to demonstrate that massage can have an effect on sleep we have to consider the science. Looking at the neurochemistry of sleep, and the effect massage has on that neurochemistry, may provide a solid link between massage and insomnia treatment.
Serotonin is one of the most important brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, for regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Diets high in the amino acid tryptophan can maintain healthy serotonin levels, but hectic lifestyles can disrupt serotonin production. When serotonin levels are low, sleep disturbances and other issues can result, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
There have been many studies that show massage can directly influence the body’s production of serotonin. A study on back pain, conducted in January 2000 by the Touch Research Institute in conjunction with the University Of Miami School Of Medicine and Iris Burman of Miami’s Educating Hands School of Massage demonstrated that in addition to a decrease in long-term pain, subjects receiving massage experienced improved sleep and an increase in serotonin levels. Tiffany Field PhD of the Touch Research Institute recommends Swedish massage, as moderate pressure is the key to reducing heart rate and encourages brain wave patterns of heightened alertness and relaxation.
Whilst Serotonin inhibits sleep, melatonin induces restful sleep and together they are key to maintaining a healthy sleep cycle. Melatonin is a hormone that is derived from serotonin and released by the pineal gland in response to darkness. As darkness draws in, melatonin production increases to promote sleep throughout the night. The best way of ensuring optimal melatonin production is to sleep in as dark an environment as possible. Even low amounts of ambient light will suppress the production of melatonin.
As serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, increased serotonin levels are vital for melatonin production and in turn, restful sleep. As well as massage, there are many natural ways to boost serotonin. Getting as much natural light exposure as possible in the daytime will help serotonin production. Diet is also very important. Eat foods high in tryptophan, complex carbs and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. For a treat, try dark chocolate which contains resveratrol which reportedly boosts both endorphins and serotonin levels. And don’t forget to exercise regularly as exercise causes an increase in tryptophan too.
A good night’s sleep can benefit you and those around you, when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you’re in a better mood, can concentrate better, make better informed decisions, have improved memory, and you’re less likely to get ill.
In order to achieve a good night’s sleep:
• Have a bedtime routine and maintain a regular sleep pattern
• Keep the lights low in the hours leading up to bedtime
• Avoid the use of use of technology in the hours before bedtime, including television, computers, and mobile phones (as this type of type of light mimics daylight, convincing the brain that it is still daytime and suppressing the production of melatonin)
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol
• Have a regular massage