I often hear people describing their sleep pattern to me and I will sometimes ask afterwards, “how long have you suffered from insomnia?”. The response is usually a puzzled look and a quick denial. “Oh it’s nothing as bad as that…”
But, according to the NHS, Insomnia is defined as the difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, an issue affecting around one in every three people in the UK. Insomnia doesn’t have to be a life altering challenge, but it may be a lot more common than you realise.
The causes of insomnia usually fall into 4 categories:
Lifestyle factors– such as smoking, drinking caffeine and alcohol, drugs and medication, shift work.
Physical illness– such as pain, an overactive thyroid and sleep conditions.
Environmental factors– such as room temperature, noise (your partner’s snoring), light disturbance and general comfort levels.
State of mind– such as depression, anxiety, bereavement and stress.
Many of the suggestions for the treatment of insomnia are that of self-help.
It is clear that some factors are easier to fix than others, buying ear plugs, adjusting medication, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the evenings, reducing phone and laptop use at night and purchasing a perfect pillow are all usually fairly achievable goals.
Others are far more complex. These tend to fall into that final category- state of mind. And the hardest part of all is that the less you sleep the more troubled your state of mind becomes. When facing extreme tiredness it can leave you feeling very helpless, frustrated and unable to cope with the everyday- a similar feeling to extreme stress. If stress is, in fact, the cause of insomnia then the likelihood is that this will have a negative impact on the sufferer’s state of mind, making it difficult to think clearly with sound logic and reason about that stress and, in some cases, making it appear worse than it is. The same can be said for anxiety and depression – conditions that not only cause insomnia but that are also made vastly worse through inadequate sleep.
Whatever the cause of insomnia, there are several key reflex points that relate to improving sleep quality.
-The Diaphragm Line, a reflex relating to the diaphragm muscle which relaxes and contracts to allow for respiration, promotes deep and rhythmic breathing and helps the client (usually without noticing) to mimic the steady breathing that occurs during sleep. It is a deeply relaxing reflex point.
-Massage techniques are incorporated into each Reflexology treatment ensuring the session feels great and is a soothing relaxing experience.
-The Pineal gland reflex point. This gland is in control of the body’s sleep wake cycle and produces melanin. Melanin is a common ingredient in many sleeping tablets as it is often the chemical imbalance in the body preventing people from feeling tired or being able to fall asleep and stay asleep. By helping to bring stability to this gland and to normalise its function Reflexology plays a key role in helping clients return to a healthy sleep pattern.
-Aside from the physical factors, taking some time out to concentrate on nothing more than improving your own well-being and relaxation can be hugely beneficial. The calm, comfortable and relaxing environment of reflexology allows a space for quiet reflection and the chance to organise thoughts. So effective is reflexology when it comes to improving rest that many clients even fall asleep mid-treatment, right there in the chair!
In this month’s blog I will be talking about using Reflexology in the management of stress.
I chose this topic because it’s close to my heart. My fiancé works a full time job, has a freelance job on the side and spends a few hours a week volunteering for a charity. In short, he works really hard. But the stress that comes with all those pressures sometimes worries me and the impact of stress on the body never fails to astound me.
It has been suggested that around 75% of all GP visits are for stress related conditions.
At a very basic level stress can cause a huge number of health issues for both body and mind and affects behaviour, mood and physical health. From insomnia to over-eating, irritability to IBS, high blood pressure to depression, anxiety to headaches. The list is endless.
If we look closer, however, it is clear to see that the impact of stress is far from simple. Stress not only causes ill health but it exacerbates a lot of pre-existing issues.
One of the key things in combating stress is to recognise that you are stressed in the first place, a kind of mindfulness. But to be aware and to be mindful often requires you to stop, reflect and to find time where there is none. As the Zen saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.”
It’s a bit of a catch 22 scenario.
The fight-or-flight response, also called hyper arousal or the acute stress response, is all to blame. This refers to the physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. What used to come in very handy when about to be smooshed by a woolly mammoth or eaten by a bear now impacts on our day-to-day life despite having far less relevance.
Not a million miles away from meditation, Reflexology offers a lot to combat high stress levels, but with a few additional advantages too:
The time to reflect, to unwind and put your feet up (literally). The time for self, for mindfulness and meditation. The time to offload, to talk things over and organise your thoughts with someone who is there to listen. That may seem simple but it is, in my opinion, the most important step. For me, the worst situation is a stressed client who cancels their appointment because they don’t have time. Make time for yourself. Make time to be aware of yourself.
Stress Reflex points
There are so many stress related reflex points, and this is before we even consider and treat the conditions that stress has caused or worsened. Going back to the fight or flight response, adrenaline is produced by the adrenal gland. During each treatment reflexology aims to bring stability to, and balance, the adrenal gland. As you might expect it is frequently a tender point for most people.
The adrenal gland also produces cortisol and this has an impact on the blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Too much cortisol could raise both so by working the adrenals reflexology aims to normalise the function of the gland. Working the Diaphragm line encourages deep breathing and relaxation allowing the body and mind to tune out and take a rest. The solar plexus, a network of nerves located behind the stomach and in front of the diaphragm, is a deeply soothing reflex point encouraging balance, deep breathing and calm. Working the shoulder reflex points reduces and releases tension from the muscles and increases blood flow to remove lactic acid.
Finally, and importantly, the most common feedback I get is that after a treatment the client’s sleep quality improves dramatically. For stress, there’s nothing quite like a proper night’s sleep.
After you take control of your stress levels and find time to be mindful then we can get down to all other stress related conditions for a thorough holistic treatment,
For Mind Body and Sole…