Massage is a great way to ease stress and make you relax. A lot of our clients come for a massage to improve their sleep. It’s, therefore, no coincidence that a lot of people fall asleep during a massage.
Why does massage make you feel sleepy? Massage makes you feel sleepy because it triggers hormones that make you fall asleep. These hormones include serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and acetylcholine.
These are called feel-good hormones.
In this article you will learn:
- How massage triggers the release of these hormones
- How do these hormones put you to sleep?
- And should you fall asleep during a massage
How Does Massage Make You Feel Sleepy?
Massage uses touch as its primary tool.
Physical touch is proven to stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for emotional connection and bonding.
Touch stimulates the release of feel-good hormones that act on the hypothalamus.
It’s an organ located underneath the brain.
The hypothalamus is important for a lot of functions, one of which includes the regulation of sleep.
What Hormones Are Responsible for Sleep?
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a hormone released majorly by the brain and organs in the gut and stomach. Smaller quantities are stored in the platelets.
It is made of an essential amino acid called tryptophan. We won’t bore you with all the geeky stuff. On to the fun part.
Exactly what does serotonin do? Serotonin has a huge impact on your mood, sleep, diet, and even motor skills. People with clinical depression and anxiety often have little amounts of serotonin. They will need drugs to increase their secretion.
In the brain, serotonin stimulates the hypothalamus, the organ we mentioned earlier. The stimulation of this organ makes you feel sleepy.
As you approach bedtime, serotonin surges, telling you that it is time to snooze.
A burst of serotonin makes you feel relaxed and content.
Serotonin boosts your mood, makes you feel happy, and regulates your appetite too.
Now, there are lots of ways to increase serotonin.
You can increase your intake of tryptophan by consuming fermented foods like cheeses, cured meats, and tofu.
Also exercise, meditattion, and most definitely, have a massage!
Dopamine is famously called the reward hormone. You know that rush of emotions you feel when you engage in a pleasurable habit? Those emotions are triggered by dopamine.
Dopamine is responsible for reinforcing habits because it primarily works on the motivation and reward center in the brain. But don’t worry, a massage is a good habit to develop.
Just like serotonin, dopamine is made from amino acids and secreted by cells in the brain. And although dopamine doesn’t have a direct effect like serotonin in making you fall asleep, it has a huge impact on the hypothalamus in regulating sleep.
Because dopamine makes you feel good, clients who suffer from stress and anxiety find it easier to fall asleep after a burst of dopamine.
You can increase dopamine by exercising, having sex, or engaging in your favorite hobby or activity. Or you can enjoy a full-body massage!
Endorphins are hormones secreted primarily by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. They help us enjoy the activities we find pleasurable i.e eating food and having sex, talking, and laughing with friends.
They also help us cope with painful experiences.
For example, if you have a fall or some other accident, your secretion of endorphins increases. Scientists call endorphins endogenous opioids because they act just like opioids.
So how do endorphins make us feel sleepy? During the massage, the pituitary and hypothalamus secrete bursts of endorphins.
Endorphins act on opioid receptors in the brain. This stimulation reduces the sensation of pain, stress, and anxiety, improves mood, and boosts self-esteem.
While these functions do not directly cause sleepiness like serotonin, clients who find it difficult to sleep because of stress, anxiety, and pain from inflammation can find it easier to fall asleep after a massage.
What’s more, scientists have been able to establish a link between reduced amounts of endorphins to insomnia, mood disorders, anxiety, moodiness, and drug addiction.
Oxytocin is famously called the love hormone. It is secreted by pregnant and nursing mothers and improves the bonding between a mother and her child.
It is also secreted during the sexual attraction, romantic love, and sex. But oxytocin isn’t only secreted during labor and sex, its secretion is also increased by physical touch during a massage.
Oxytocin doesn’t directly cause sleepiness but it promotes the feeling of relaxation.4 This feeling is useful for massage clients who find it difficult to sleep because of stress, anxiety, and moodiness.
This hormone drives most activities when you are in a relaxed state. It is released by the parasympathetic nervous system. Acetylcholine is used as a drug to treat people with insomnia and other sleep disorders because it stimulates sleep.
Did you know that massage is one of the ways to quickly activate the parasympathetic nervous system?
Well, now you do. During a head and neck massage, the vagus nerve is stimulated.
The vagus nerve, which is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, releases acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes the gut, promotes relaxation, and also induces sleep. All these actions are part of the rest and digest actions caused by parasympathetic stimulation.
Have you ever been sleepy after an intense exercise session or deep tissue massage? That may just be the effect of adenosine.
Adenosine is not a hormone but a by-product of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a transmitter used by cells for energy.
A deep tissue massage is more or less an intense workout on muscles. Muscles use more ATP during a deep tissue massage and after the session, muscles will attempt to recover by clearing out adenosine and lactate.
During recovery, you can feel sleepy. And it’s not surprising that you fall asleep during a massage and even feel groggy hours after the session.
Is it Good to Sleep During a Massage?
A lot of clients ask us this question. Some think it is rude to fall asleep while the therapist is at work. Our response? If you feel sleepy during a massage then fall asleep.
Think about it, most clients come in for massages because they are stressed and they want to relax and care for their bodies. Sleep is a great way to do that. After all, we all know that sleep is a restorative process.
If you suffer from anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders, then you should fall asleep if you feel sleepy. You are taking advantage of the primary reason you came for the session. Your body rests and recovers itself, while the therapist carries on with the work.
Now its time to hear from you:
Do you feel sleepy during a massage?
Do you succumb to it or fight it off?
We can’t wait to read your responses below.