“Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at National Institutes of Health (NIH). “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.”
The CDC states that lack of sleep contributes to many of the chronic diseases--such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health. Not getting enough sleep can have serious health consequences.
In addition to the physical relief of pain and tension that massage provides, “Massage helps people spend more time in deep sleep, the restorative stage in which the body barely moves, which reduces the neurotransmitters associated with pain.” says Anne Williams, director of education, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.
Research has also shown that massage therapy reduces levels of the "stress-hormone" cortisol, while at the same time increasing levels of dopamine, the "feel-good" hormone. Massage therapy also directly influences the body’s production of serotonin, which is essential for the production of melatonin, a hormone critical for healthy sleep cycles.
“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain,” says Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. Nedergaard is also a leader of a recent NIH-funded study that suggests sleep actually clears the brain of damaging molecules associated with neuro-degeneration, opening up new possibilities for Alzheimer's and dementia research.
This study shows that, during sleep, there is an increased flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. “These are some dramatic changes in extracellular space,” said Charles Nicholson, Ph.D., a professor at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and an expert in measuring the dynamics of brain fluid flow and how it influences nerve cell communication.
A very subtle, pumping reflex circulates the CSF through the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system. Restrictions in the flow of the CSF, from lack of sleep or other conditions, can have negative consequences for the brain and overall health.
Restore Your Rhythm with Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy is restorative bodywork therapy using precise and gentle touch to the head, spine, face, and pelvis to correct imbalances in the fluid and membranes surrounding and protecting the brain and spinal cord. The light, therapeutic touch of craniosacral therapy restores and facilitates the rhythmic flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Relieving these restrictions allows the entire nervous system to function at its best, eliminating stress and pain, and hopefully providing a good night's rest!
Two craniosacral techniques that can easily be incorporated into your next massage are "cranial pumping", which follows and facilitates the natural pumping rhythm of the craniosacral system, and the "CV4", an occipital hold that brings this rhythm to a "still point".
According to Amy Lewis, LMT, an Upledger-trained CranioSacral Therapist, when the pumping is brought to a "still point", fluid pressure builds in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, causing a gentle stretch to these membranes. When the hold is released, the fluid gently flushes the craniosacral system, breaking the cycle of "fight or flight" and inducing a state of parasympathetic relaxation.
Many massage clients who have experienced CV4 ask for it again, often calling this technique "that thing you do when you hold my head". The next time you come in for a massage, ask your massage therapist to incorporate some craniosacral techniques to improve your sleep!
Getting a good night's sleep begins with acknowledging the important role sleep plays in our health and wellbeing, and then intentionally creating the time and space for rest and relaxation in our lives. In addition to healthy diet, exercise, and regular massage or craniosacral therapy, here are a few more tips to improve your "sleep hygiene" and get rest you need to be at your best:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday (including weekends!)
- Enjoy relaxing bedtime rituals.
- Use essential oils and aromatherapy for better sleep.
- Try melatonin supplements (You can find this at the People's Food Co-op).
- Limit caffeine and alcohol, especially late in the day.
- Put down your digital devices and dim the lights!
- Create a sacred, uncluttered restful space to sleep.
- Schedule a massage to help you relax and unwind!