Does shiatsu work for insomnia?
By Jason Wooden, PhD | September 30, 2023
Why there’s growing interest in shiatsu and other natural remedies for insomnia
Every night one in three adults struggle with sleep for various reasons.
If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for something you can do besides pills to help you fall asleep.
While sleeping pills are convenient and powerful, they definitely come with downsides. For me, I wake up with a sleeping pill hangover which means I’m groggy and kind of useless for part of the day until it wears off.
When used long-term, you can become dependent on sleeping pills and develop an addiction. For some people, the pills may stop working as the body builds up a tolerance to them.
So, it’s no surprise there’s so much interest in shiatsu and other natural remedies for insomnia.
It’s natural, low cost, and low tech.
Shiatsu is a form of acupressure that is derived from Japan and has been used for thousands of years. It involves applying pressure on various points on the body using the thumb, hands, elbows, knees, and feet.
The way Shiatsu is thought to benefit the body is that pressing specific points improves blood and lymphatic circulation.
It’s currently being used to help with joint problems, muscle pain and tension, digestive issues, asthma, skill conditions, fatigue, and many other ailments.
Could shiatsu work for insomnia too?
Let’s take a look at what we know and how you can try it out.
What the research says about shiatsu massage for insomnia
So, how could shiatsu and other massage techniques help insomnia?
It turns out stress, tension, and anxiety are among the most common issues for sleep.
And massage therapy has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and ease tension in the body.
Some of the ways massage is thought to help is by reducing stress hormones, stimulating the release of feel good chemicals, or triggering sleep promoting hormones such as melatonin. However, researchers are still unraveling the secrets of massage’s positive effects on the body.
Nonetheless, studies have confirmed that massage can improve the sleep quality of children, adolescents, and adults struggling with a variety of sleep issues.
There are many types of massage, including Swedish massage, deep tissues massage, trigger point massage, and aromatherapy massage.
Is there any direct evidence that shiatsu massage can work for insomnia?
A 2014 pilot study in Canada followed nine people living with chronic pain to see if shiatsu hand massage could help them sleep better. They were taught how to self-administer basic shiatsu pressure techniques on their hands at bedtime.
Participants reported they fell asleep faster and slept longer after two weeks and eight weeks of treatment.
Likewise, another pilot study found that shiatsu hand massage could help improve the sleep of young athletes struggling with insomnia after a sport-related concussion.
More recently, Canadian researchers tested whether shiatsu hand massage could help young adults struggling with chronic pain sleep better. The study participants reported that they slept better at night and were less fatigued during the day.
And lastly, the same has been seen for older adults too in a more rigorous randomized study in Japan. The study involved 59 patients suffering from chronic back pain and tested whether shiatsu could help them sleep better. They found that adding shiatsu to their treatment plan could help improve their sleep quality.
Altogether, research so far is showing that Shiatsu massage can help improve the sleep of young and older adults struggling with insomnia.
Practical tips for trying out shiatsu for insomnia
There are many places where you can learn more about shiatsu massage for sleep:
Like anything else you’re doing for the first thing, it’s important to do things the right way if you decide you want to give Shiatsu a try for your sleep.
While shiatsu is generally considered safe, people with some medical conditions should approach it with caution and check with a specialist before trying it out.
(Some of the medical conditions are listed here.)
Be sure to look for a shiatsu specialist who is certified and licensed. You can ask for referrals from your doctor or an alternative medicine specialist.
You can also check an online directory:
Other natural remedies besides shiatsu that can help insomnia
Shiatsu isn’t the only game in town. If you’re curious about natural remedies for insomnia, you’re in luck.
In fact, you may find that you want to combine remedies or at least have other things in your tool box.
Step up your sleep hygiene
As simple as this sounds, sleep hygiene is one of the best investments you can make for your sleep.
Your everyday habits can set the stage for deep restful sleep at night. Poor sleep hygiene can sabotage everything else you do for your sleep.
For better sleep hygiene, you should:
- keep consistent wake up & sleep times
- avoid naps
- exercise during the day
- avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
- maintain a regular bedtime routine
- avoid using TVs, laptops, or other electronics before sleep
- keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing
There’s a wide variety of natural supplements that can help with sleep. Among the better known ones are feverfew, peppermint essential oil, ginger root, turmeric, lavender essential oil, and CBD.
Keep in mind some have been tested more than others.
Also, before trying out a natural remedy, it’s strongly recommended that you check with your doctor and an alternative medicine specialist such as a naturopathic physician.
They can advise you about whether it’s right for you, possible side effects and drug interactions, dosing, and the best way to take it.
Physical activity is a natural mood booster and promotes deep sleep.
There’s a variety of relaxation techniques that can aid the transition to sleep whether it’s progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, biofeedback, or visualization.
A practice where you focus and quiet the mind in order to relax body & mind.
Gentle stretching is another way to help relax the body and mind in preparation for sleep.
Studies have shown that music can promote relaxation and promote sleep.
“Talking Points”, World Sleep Society website (source)
WHAT IS SHIATSU?, Shiatsu Therapy Association of Australia website (source)
What to know about shiatsu massage, 2022, MedicalNewsToday (source)
Massage For Sleep: The Ultimate Guide, 2023, sleepopolis.com (source)
Massage Therapy Can Help Improve Sleep, American Massage Therapy Association (source)
Hand shiatsu treatment explored as sleep aid, 2014, ScienceDaily (source)
Hand self-Shiatsu for sleep problems in persons with chronic pain: a pilot study. J Integr Med. 2014 Mar;12(2):94-101. (source)
Effectiveness of hand self-shiatsu to improve sleep following sport-related concussion in young athletes: a proof-of-concept study. Journal of Integrative Medicine Volume 17, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 24-29 (source)
Effectiveness of Hand Self-Shiatsu to Promote Sleep in Young People with Chronic Pain: a Case Series Design. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2020 Dec; 13(4): 3–11. (source)
The Effect of Shiatsu Therapy on Sleep Quality in Patients With Low Back Pain: A Secondary Analysis. Holist Nurs Pract. 2023 Mar-Apr;37(2):71-77. (source)
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