For many women, menopause may bring along unwanted symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. A recent pilot study has shown massage therapy significantly improves all three of these unwanted effects in postmenopausal women.

The study, “Effect of massage in postmenopausal women with insomnia–A pilot study,” included seven postmenopausal women with insomnia, ranging in age from 50 to 65 years. Participants all reported difficulty in falling asleep or insomnia at least three times a week. Subjects in the study had been in postmenopause for at least one year, with no previous exposure to exogenous hormones.

Each of these seven women received two one-hour sessions of massage therapy per week for eight weeks, for a total of 16 sessions of massage. Before and after the 16-week intervention period, subjects completed surveys to measure specific outcomes. Anxiety and depression were evaluated, using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory, before the start of the study and at every four sessions of massage therapy through the final session.

A Sleep Diary was completed on a daily basis by the subjects in the study. This consists of a survey that subjects are asked to complete upon waking each day for at least two weeks. It looks at aspects of sleep including time going to bed, time taken to fall asleep and time of waking up.

Researchers also used polysomnography (PSG) to assess the quality of sleep among participants. This method uses electrodes to record the landmarks of sleep quality, providing data for a physician trained in PSG to analyze. Subjects underwent PSG before the start of the study and after the 16-week intervention period ended.

Results of the research revealed a significant improvement in the symptoms of both anxiety and depression among the postmenopausal women. The Sleep Diary showed these subjects also fell asleep faster, and the quality of their sleep gradually improved throughout the massage intervention. As for the PSG analysis, it confirmed the significant improvements in subjects’ quality of sleep.

“The present study showed that therapeutic massage decreased the severity of subjective sleep disturbance related to menopause,” state the study’s authors. “First, there was a decrease in insomnia and anxiety-depressive symptoms; the treatment also suppressed other menopausal symptoms.

“Second, PSG findings revealed a decrease in REM latency and increased stages three and four,” they continued. “Based on the present results, we suggest that therapeutic massage is beneficial for improving subjective sleep quality in postmenopausal women, as well as for alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

Authors: Helena Hachul, Denise Oliveira, Sergio Tufik and Lia Bittencourt.

Sources: Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil. Originally published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinics (2011) 66 (2): 343-346.