Worry keeps us awake. It is impossible to sleep when our mind is churning with thoughts of what-ifs. Everything seems okay but as soon as I am in bed ready to sleep my ‘nighttime Whatifs strike again!’ as poet Shel Silverstein succinctly explains our nighttime agitations.
I’ve always struggled to fall asleep till I serendipitously discovered a simple and effective way to relax my mind and body. Self-massage. During one of those sleepless nights, I involuntarily began massaging my face and lo, the next thing without realizing I was asleep.
Now giving myself a mini face massage is a nightly routine.
Unable To Switch Off
During a typical day, we usually encounter situations that are irritating, distressing, or stressful Even though they may not be life-threatening our nervous system perceives these daily stressors as threats to our well-being and safety. thus triggering our ‘fight-flight response.
Sleep plays an important role in our physical health. Sleep is critical for the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and a weakened immune function. Additionally, lack of sleep leads to poor mental health -we are unable to function optimally.
Unfortunately, most of us are unable to switch off from alert mode. Unlike most animals, we lack the ability to automatically shake off the tensions from our bodies and turn on our parasympathetic branch of rest and relax. Furthermore, ongoing stress has a depressive action on the natural vagal braking system. Which means we cannot relax enough to fall asleep.
Here’s Why a Face Massage Is So Relaxing
Firstly, our face is an area where we hold lots of tension – particularly around the eyes.
Secondly, our face is part of the ventral vagus branch of the vagus nerve. What’s more, the ventral vagus controls the functions of the face-lung-heart. It is critical to sending cues of safety, to the autonomic nervous system.
When we massage our face we trigger our relaxation response, sending the message to our brain – we are safe. Touch is primally encoded into our mind-body system. Slow and repetitive touch is the most basic of human interactions that were programmed in us from the time we were babies.
It’s So Simple – Just A Few Drops of Oil
Simply lie in bed and take a few drops of oil on your fingertips and massage. I prefer either castor oil or sesame oil which are cheap and very good for the skin. Castor oil is particularly good for the skin and also helps you sleep.
Of course, you can use any oil – coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil, avocado oil or jojoba oil. Alternately, you could use aloe vera gel or even your favorite moisturizer. However, before you use any oil, do a patch test 24 hours before applying it to your face – to make sure your skin doesn’t react adversely.
Massage The Tension Away – Sensitive Spots
Start with the tensest part of the face. For most of us, it is the forehead and eye area. Our eyes are the most sensitive and represent a complex part of our central nervous system, connected directly to the brain. Massaging the eye area triggers oculocardiac reflex by stimulating the vagus nerve which slows down heart rate thus helps in stress relief.
- Start with massaging the eyebrows, then area around the eye’s orbits, the bony ridge that encircles the eyes.
- Then move to the forehead, the temple area.
- Next move to the nasal area massaging the nostrils helps drain the lymphatic buildup thus improving your breathing.
- Massage the cheekbones, the mouth, the jawbone.
- Most importantly massage the ears, the ear is the only place where the vagus nerve reaches the surface of the body (via its auricular branch).
- You can stretch the massage to include your neck, and chest, and even the stomach area.
Massage Triggers The Relaxation Response
Falling asleep is about feeling safe enough to relax. You don’t need sleeping drugs to put you to sleep. It is simply being able to unwind and let go of the stress – relaxing your mind and triggering the relaxation response in your body.
All you need is a 2-minute massage to relax your mind and body Only when we feel safe can we fall into a deep slumber. One added benefit of a nightly massage is besides waking up feeling more refreshed is having better skin and fewer wrinkles. Try it – works every night for me.