On the one hand relaxation doubles as both one of the most common goals for clients in a session as well as one of the most generally agreed upon benefits of massage. On the other hand, a massage is usually something that you’re paying good money for, and it makes sense that you would want to experience and enjoy as much of it as possible. I have several clients who apologize nearly every session either for sleeping or, in some cases, for snoring during their session and even a small few who get a bit frustrated with themselves for having fallen asleep thinking that they’ve ‘missed out’ on some part of the massage. So…is it better to sleep or is it better to try and stay awake?
While I cannot speak for all Massage Therapists, I personally view a client falling asleep during a session as a telltale sign of job well done. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, massage is at its most effective when the client is able to shift their nervous system out of the sympathetic, “fight-or-flight” state that we tend to live in a majority of the time and into the parasympathetic, “relaxed and healing” state. The act of falling asleep is a solid indicator that the body is doing just that…letting go of the stress, tension, and worry that can sometimes overwhelm our conscious state and entering a state of rest and relaxation instead.
It should be noted that accessing the parasympathetic system is not dependent on a person being asleep. There are many meditative practices or activities that can be done in a mindful way that can help people access this relaxed state, but for many sleeping may be the only time that their nervous system is ‘allowed’ to access this state. This can create a sort of ‘muscle memory’ type connection between the parasympathetic system and sleeping. For some, as they begin to relax during a massage, some subconscious process in the brain or nervous system says to the rest of the body “Hey, we’re feeling relaxed so it must be time to sleep.”
So please know, if you have a hard time staying awake through a massage…that is not a problem at all. It just means that your body is sensing that it needs rest or recovery and is responding accordingly. And, if you do want to stay awake to consciously experience as much of your session as possible, I would recommend incorporating more of whatever mindful or meditative practices you find most calming or relaxing into your daily routine. As you become more familiar with consciously accessing the parasympathetic part of your nervous system the automatic response of falling asleep as soon as your body experiences relaxation should gradually diminish as well.