Shiatsu Massage Could Be the Perfect Treatment For Insomnia, New Research Suggests


A new study from the University of Alberta suggests that shiatsu, the traditional Japanese massage method, may work as a non-pharmacologic sleep aid, particularly for people suffering from insomnia derived from chronic pain. 

“We know that sleep involves both physiology and learning. You don’t just flip a switch and go to sleep,” says Cary Brown, an associate professor with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. “What we saw with this pilot is that it appears self-shiatsu may help your body to prepare for sleep and help you stay asleep for longer periods.”

Though the nine-person sample size is small and researchers agree that there’s more work needed to be done, this research could prove vital for thousands of people. As many as 90% of Americans suffer from back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association, and 
two-thirds of people suffering chronic pain report having un-refreshing sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Nancy Cheyne, a former ballerina, barrel racer and study participant, said that her lower back was so debilitating that lying in bed was “torture,” despite using opiates and pain patches. However, after just 15 minutes of self-shiatsu massage, she’s down for the count. Typically, she wakes up every 45 minutes, but she says that with shiatsu she can sleep for two hours at a time.

“Usually within a few minutes of doing the pressure treatments, I’m gone – asleep,” Cheyne says. “Sometimes I can’t even finish, I just go out.”

“One of the barriers to falling asleep for people who have pain is they worry about what’s going to happen and while you’re laying there you’re thinking about all these negative things, it occupies your attention,” said Brown. “This relates to research on attention in cognitive theory.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine. Though it still requires more attention, the study could prove shiatsu to be an ideal treatment for insomnia

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