Sleep, catching Z’s, counting sheep, forty winks, shut-eye:
Just a few of the colloquialisms we use to describe arguably the most important part of our lives that affects all aspects of our health but is also a powerful way in which the body can heal and restore balance.
So let’s dive into the wonderful world of sleepiness!
Now I will also touch on various sleeping disorders that people suffer from, if you are one of them, my deepest sympathies go out to you. As always, this blog is written to educate and uplift you.
Disclaimer: I am not diagnosing anyone here and I advise all readers not to use this blog as a source of self-diagnosis. Only as a source of knowledge and empowerment.
I know this will be a lot, but I will start by introducing a term, sleep hygiene, this term is pretty much self-explanatory. But how good is yours? Mine isn’t always perfect I must admit!
What makes good sleep hygiene? Here are three examples:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time: Consistency is key, this links into your circadian rhythm, more on this later.
- Have a relaxing evening “pre-sleep” routine. Reading a book, have an evening massage, meditate etc., all help with relaxation by reducing cortisol. This eases you into a relaxing, sleepy state.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulants before bed. These substances increase your cortisol level and reduce melatonin, thereby making it difficult to fall asleep.
Now, onto another important question: How does sleep benefit your health?
Great question: Let’s get our teeth into it!
There are mountains of research on sleep on many different websites. According to the Sleep Foundation (1), sleep affects:
- cognitive performance: having a good sleep allows you to be more creative and learn new skills more effectively.
- Memory processing: This point is HUGE, as during your sleep-wake cycle, we enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, during this stage of sleep, the brain processes and makes memories concrete. Logically following on from that point; a lack of REM sleep will lead to reduced memory, focus, and organisational skills.
- Immunity: During deep sleep, there is an excess of cytokines as well as T-cells, this increases the body’s ability to deal with infections, so making sure your immunity is in top condition is vital for everyone!
These are only a couple of examples, the list goes on an on, I advise all readers to do your own research.
I do want to touch on a couple of sleep disorders that people suffer with. If you do have a sleep disorder, I empathise with you and there are plenty of treatments that can help you. I will cover 2 common sleep disorders in this section.
Insomnia: Firstly, I will talk about Insomnia. How do you know if Insomnia affects you? If you have difficulty falling and remaining asleep even though you are tired. There are 2 types of Insomnia, short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic). Acute Insomnia means sleep difficulties for a few days per week that lasts no longer than 3 months. However, when the symptoms last for 3 months or more, then insomnia is defined as chronic (2).
Chronic insomnia leads to long-term sleep deprivation and can, according to an article published on the website UpToDate.com, lead to several health issues such as; depression and the increased risk of substance abuse, chronic pain, heart disease, and diabetes (3).
Short-term or acute insomnia can be caused by various life stressors such as bereavement, the end of a marriage, loss of a job etc., some of which are out of our control. The heightened cortisol levels during these difficult situations leads to less melatonin and will therefore affect a person’s sleep. These situations are very difficult and I don’t mean to skirt over them, if any reader is going through these situations then I deeply empathise with you.
Onto the next one! Sleep Apnoea you may have heard of, but how does it affect people? Sleep Apnoea is actually a breathing disorder, but it does mostly affect you during sleep. Breathing is disrupted and even stops temporarily during sleep. Snoring and headaches are common symptoms.
There are, like Insomnia, two different types of Sleep Apnoea; Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnoea (CSA).
OSA happens when the rear of the airway is blocked during sleep. This usually results in several gasps of breath during sleep as well as snoring.
However, CSA is a bit more complex. This condition involves a lack of communication between the brain and the breathing muscles. Breathing can become shallow and can even stop temporarily similar to OSA.
- Daytime sleepiness
- Persistent headaches during waking hours
- Lack of focus on daily tasks
But fear not! There are always treatments and small changes always make a big difference. Some lifestyle changes that can be made include: getting more exercise which can also help with another lifestyle change, weight loss.
You can also make other small changes such as. changing sleep position so you are not sleeping on your back as this position may be restricting the airway during sleep. Sleeping on your side will most likely open up the airway during sleep.
Another solution that I can confirm works is an orthopaedic pillow, this will help as the cervical spine and airway are supported during sleep when on your back. Before buying a pillow like this, always consult a chiropractor/osteopath and ideally get an X-Ray of your cervical spine (image below) this will confirm what is best for you, the more information, the better!
As always, do your research on all of these points, other treatments require a prescription from qualified medical professionals, I advise you to take all advice given and make up your minds.
Back to Massage!
Now, how does massage fit into all this? Well as I outlined in a previous blog, massage is very effective in reducing the level of toxins in the body and by extension, reducing muscular tension and pain. Furthermore, massage significantly reduces the level of cortisol, making way for the sleep hormone melatonin, amongst others, this is just a brief outline as the endocrine system is very complex! In short, the less cortisol in the body, the better as this means less stress. I have massage clients who have spoken to me a few days after their session saying what a fantastic sleep they had.
As I said, I have covered the benefits of massage in this blog: https://healthfull-waves.co.uk/detoxing-with-massage-new-year-new-energy/, make sure to have a read and check out all the wonderful benefits.
More information can also be found on this website: https://sleepreviewmag.com/sleep-health/prevailing-attitudes/massage-therapy-sleep/ .
I can honestly write a massive essay, or book even about sleep as it is such a deep topic with research still ongoing. I have kept this brief as I want it to be a bite-sized blog that you can dip in and out of.
Until next time massage fans, thank you for reading
Have a great night’s sleep!
References: The boring bit, you may fall asleep now.
Bonnet, M., & Arand, D. (2023, Aug 23). Risk factors, comorbidities, and consequences of insomnia in adults. In R. Benca (Ed.). UpToDate.