Falling Asleep During a Massage

I’ve often wondered if it is a compliment or insult when a person falls asleep on the massage table. I mean, here I am putting forth the energy while squeezing and manipulating their muscles and tissues while they are snoring. How should that be interpreted?

I’ve always held the belief that when a client gets bruises; it’s because of a poorly executed massage. I used to believe that when a person falls asleep it was because the therapist gave a very weak massage. The pressure wasn’t sufficient; the movements were not as vigorous as they should have been, or the therapist was taking it easy.

Then I started to change my thinking after I met a person who was past the brink of exhaustion. I figured then that maybe the client needs to fall to sleep. He was responsible for organizing a major event at a college that was the focus of not only national, but international attention. When this gentleman was assigned this task, he worked diligently on it for over a month putting in 14 hour work days, 7 days a week. He was constantly answering questions and directing people, making decisions on-the-spot and having to adhere to the strictest guidelines.

There was a note under his name in the appointment book that said that he needed to de-stress. His wife had purchased him a gift certificate and mentioned that he was under considerable stress the last month. When he came in to get his massage I mentioned that it looks like your wife wanted to get you in here for some de-stressing. His took about an hour to explain why. By the time he was done finishing why he needed the massage I had become exhausted.

In a way I was glad that I had the chance to talk with him before the massage. He got the chance to release his pent up energy with me while the therapist was preparing for the room for massage. By using me as a soundboard, he had the opportunity to release his energy so that he could focus more on the massage. Instead of him giving, giving, and giving, he was in a position where he could receive, receive, receive.

After he came out of his massage, I asked him how he enjoyed it. He said that he still felt tense, but that at least he was more relaxed now and he thinks that he maybe even dozed off. When ever a person can’t remember a massage, chances are that they did drift off. He thanked us tremendously for our time and went about his way. This was someone who could certainly benefit from more sessions.

The point of the story wasn’t to bore you with the dealings of my interaction with a client. It was to mention that up until that point I believed that if a person fell asleep during a massage that it was due to a poor massage by the therapist. I know that sometimes people fall asleep during a massage. It was mentioned in school that it would happen, and it even happened to me.

When I was in school, we were taught that having a client fall on a table would happen. Whether that was a good thing or not was another matter. It was explained that some people find the massage so relaxing that they just drift away and sleep.

Before we were allowed to massage the general public in the student clinic, we had to first massage a teacher in order to prove our proficiency with our hands. I still remember my first time with the instructor. During the massage I was completely focused on every hand movement and position. There was a point during the massage where I heard deep, heavy breathing and their eyes were closed. When the hour had passed, I left the room and awaited my final evaluation. On the sheet they had put “DNR” on some of the locations. I had passed the evaluation, but I wanted to find out what “DNR” meant. For purposes of this test I knew it didn’t mean “do not resuscitate”, so I asked another instructor. They told me it meant that it meant did not remember. This meant that it could have been that they really did not remember, or that they fell asleep during that part of the massage. I found out from a different instructor that this particular staff member had a tendency to fall asleep during student massages.

People fall asleep during a massage for reasons other than exhaustion or tiredness. It could have even been from a massage done with inadequate pressure. When I talk about people falling asleep during the massage as a result of the therapist actions, I am referring to the therapist unintentionally causing their client to fall asleep out of boredom. If you go in for a deep tissue massage and the pressure is so light and the movements so subtle that you fall asleep, you should upset with your therapist. It should be invigorating and stimulating.

There are massage therapies where having the client fall asleep is intended to happen. It is generally unknown what effects massage will have on an individual. When a person goes in for a standard Swedish massage any number of things can happen. They may talk the whole time, fall asleep, become energized, fell more relaxed and focused or they may want to go home and nap. Massage does help to relax the muscles and increase circulation, so this type of reaction is expected.

If you are trying to massage a client and you need feedback about how the techniques feel, but they keep dozing off, try and interact with them more. I know some clients feel like they miss out on the massage when they nod off. When they wake up they can’t believe that they fell asleep. They wanted to experience the massage and think that they can sleep anywhere, so why should they pay to fall asleep.

So what is the right response? The answer is simple; if it’s what the client needed or wanted, then it is appropriate. We need to give the client what they came in for. If they wanted a vigorous massage and they end up sleeping, then we are to blame. If they had a stressed out day and they came in full of tension and by the end they are asleep, then we did our job.