~ Joel Ackerman, RMT
It is easy to associate massage therapy with relaxation, stress reduction, and ‘working out the knots’. However, one of the most underappreciated aspects of receiving a good massage is the wonderful night of sleep that so often follows a massage therapy treatment. In a society that seems to be moving towards an epidemic of sleep debt, where an estimated 50% of adults in North America are chronically underslept, it is vital that we understand the importance of sleep in our lives and find ways to improve how we sleep.
Sleep was once thought to be a passive activity, but as the science of sleep develops, we now understand how important sleep is! Sleep is actually a highly regulated process, in which the body performs several vital activities, some of which simply don’t occur at any other time. Some of the more notable of these processes include general rest and rejuvenation of musculoskeletal structures, restoration of white blood cells (immune cells), tissue maintenance and restoration, and wound healing.
From a massage therapy perspective, this has significant implications. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, then your muscles and other soft-tissues aren’t getting a chance to recover and heal from your recent activities. Massage therapy promotes activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (which is your ‘Rest and Digest’ state) to help you get caught up on some of that rest and restoration that you’ve been missing out on, as well as promoting the secretion of growth hormone throughout your body. The maximal time your body secretes growth hormone is during sleep. Growth hormone helps repair and regenerate damaged tissue. This means that when you are sleep deprived, the chance for injuring these same structures increases because your body isn’t getting the proper chance to rest and restore. For a simple demonstration, pay attention to how much tighter your muscles feel following a poor night’s sleep! I know my neck and shoulders are going to be tight if I don’t get a good sleep.
I realize that booking a massage every day that you need to get a good night’s sleep isn’t very practical, especially if you are dealing with ongoing sleep deprivation issues. However, please don’t underestimate the effectiveness a massage can have on improving your quality of sleep, as well as all of the other wonderful benefits that regular massage therapy can contribute to a healthy lifestyle!