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  • Writer's pictureClaire Best

Massage, Sleep and Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Week in May coincides with shorter nights and increasing light levels and I don’t know about you, but the lighter nights and noisier dawn chorus, whilst a thing to be celebrated, are playing havoc with the quantity and the quality of my sleep, leaving me feeling a bit ragged at times.


Massage is a great aid to sleep in that it calms our stress response by increasing oxytocin and reducing cortisol, allowing us to relax, breathe and slow down, but in between massages with me, here are some of my other tried and tested methods.



Sound and light reduction


If during the shorter nights and longer days of the Summer months, following nature’s rhythm isn’t working for you, perhaps it’s an idea to maximise your light levels during the day and then block it out for the night and early morning.


I have a three-pronged attack of night blind, lined curtains AND a silky eye mask….but I’m a very light sleeper who needs her sleep and, since I’m not a farmer, I don’t feel the need to start the day with the sun at 4.30am. Saying that, there is nothing more beautiful than a quiet cuppa and watching the sun rise (but not every day please).


With noise disturbance, there’s not a lot we can do about low-flying aircraft or the clumsy wood pigeon that bellows and shakes the TV aerial every morning; we might even find that an act of acceptance works by using morning sounds as a form of meditation. Try listening to the nearest sound and then the one furthest away.


Failing that, and if you need your sleep, head over to the British Snoring Association for some soft earplugs. I use these: Snore Calm Foam Ear Plugs (30 Pairs) (britishsnoring.co.uk)



Self-Massage


Like I said before, touch is known to release oxytocin and calms the stress response.  When you haven't booked a massage, have you tried massaging yourself as part of your evening routine? Most evenings, I massage my calves, feet and hands whilst watching a 9pm drama, sometimes I even convince my husband to do it for me. The most important thing is to be gentle. Gentle calms the nervous system, even reducing pain far from the site of massage (but that's a blog topic for another time).


If you like, you could take a look at my lockdown head massage video – there’s some really useful techniques: How to give yourself a head massage | holistic-massage new (clairebest-holisticmassage.co.uk)



Breathe work


A quick caveat to breathe work is to be careful if you have a heart or other severe medical condition or are pregnant. Ask your GP first and if you feel pain or dizziness, stop.


For someone without these concerns, I find that when I slow down my breathing, I am calm and sleeps comes more naturally.


Whether I’m getting ready to sleep or if I’ve woken in the night, I use the following technique of box breathing: breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4, breathe in 2,3, 4.....and so on, slowly and gently, stopping if I feel light-headed.


The key to this is not the length of my "1,2,3,4." For you it might be a much shorter or longer count, it’s the breathing in and then holding that calms the nervous system. You might find that it feels like being asleep.


I made a video on breathing techniques in January. At 3 minutes and 26 seconds I demonstrate box, or rectangular, breathing using a visual aid:


 


Gadget health


At my ripe old half century on this planet, I recall a time when life was not 24/7 and the idea of phoning anyone on the landline after the understood 9pm cut off was socially unacceptable and yet here we are in an age where we’re all texting and social media-ing later into the evening - something I’m very guilty of.


What about if we tried to switch off our phones at a set time every day, at a time we feel comfortable doing so? It’s a hard habit to break and not always possible, but give it a try just one day a week and see what happens. It might just set a new, healthier habit.


Similarly, you might opt for a bed time routine and a good book instead of the late night news.



Guided Meditation


A good friend of mine and yoga instructor (www.emmasyogahut.co.uk) put me onto Yoga Nidra meditation.


What a revelation! There’s nothing you need to do except lie down, get comfy under a blanket and be guided into relaxation. This might be something you choose to do at bedtime but I’ve found, as a school run mum, that I have a short window at 4pm which winds me down from the day that’s been, even though I seem to have found a woman via Alexa who shouts at me to "lie down and get comfortable!"– it works for me!


If you don’t fancy the shouty lady, Free Yoga Nidra meditations can be found on an app called Insight Timer:




Journaling


Many nights and as often as possible, I use my diary to reflect on the day that has been. I switch and adapt how I write. It’s a learning curve in self-bolstering and self-mothering.


Sometimes it’s a supportive acknowledgement of a “negative” feeling I may have had and noticing what went well. For example;


“In spite of feeling unusually anxious today, I massaged three hospital patients, one of whom told me that what I do is incredible, I noticed there are blue tits nesting in the house and I made my son laugh. Perhaps I need to do something nice for myself”


More recently, and I’ve heard similar things from friends, I’ve felt in need of being looked after and so it dawned on me that I could act as my own mother and channel the voice of a mother talking to a child as an act of pre sleep kindness. For example;


“I noticed how much you achieved today Claire and I’m really proud of you but I also noticed that you didn’t stop and you look tired and so I suggest that tomorrow, you drop a couple of things off your list and give yourself time to lie down and rest with a blanket and a good book.”


These journaling ideas are my own and I suspect there are books out there to guide too but it is important to me that these journaling experiences are free and guided by my own intuitive needs and so I try to end each day with kindness towards myself.



Night waking tips


What if you keep waking in the night? I’ve learnt not to panic, not to count the hours but go with it. When this happens, I sometimes pop down for a small drink and, if I’m hungry, a banana. I sometimes read a chapter of a book until I feel sleepy again.


Other times I use breathe work or, work slowly through the alphabet, listing European cities, vegetables or anything else that tickles my fancy and distracts me from the problem at hand: asparagus, broad bean, chicory, daikon, endive…(anyone know a vegetable with an X?)

 


There is so much more I could write about and plenty I have missed, including thoughts on caffeine and alcohol, but I hope these ideas, if anything, give you something pleasant to reflect on. If you are really concerned, always speak to your GP – the NHS are far more holistic in their approach these days and you may find they have useful resources to signpost you to.


Happy sleeping, see you in the massage room, Claire.

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Claire Best

Holistic Massage Therapy
Petersfield, Hampshire
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