Can Japanese Shiatsu Technique Help Beat Insomnia?

Anywhere from 50 to 70 million American adults suffer from some form of sleep/wakefulness disorder.1 Sleep disorders can stem from a range of different problems, each with their own medical treatments.  However, what sometimes brings more solace is alternative therapy like yoga that can relax the mind and body. Japanese shiatsu too can be effective for beating insomnia. But who does it work on? And how effective is it really?

How Does Japanese Shiatsu Work?

This centuries-old Japanese therapy, derived from ancient Chinese medicine once prevalent in the east, is now making its way West and around the globe. Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure,” alluding to the touch and manipulation used by practitioners during therapy. The therapist applies a comfortable degree of pressure to balance the flow of energy in the body and make subtle alterations to your physical structure.


It is a method used for boosting the energy level of the body as well as for helping to ease specific symptoms. Considered a holistic therapy that helps the mind, body, and soul, shiatsu is also being explored in the field of palliative care.2

Benefits Of Shiatsu

Designed to put the mind at ease and promote an overall sense of well-being and vitality, Japanese shiatsu is finding application in a range of different areas of wellness. Insomnia itself is either primary or secondary. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, primary insomnia is not attributable to any existing environmental/medical/psychiatric reasons, while secondary insomnia is due to an existing medical condition/mental disorder.3 Shiatsu can help with easing the symptoms of many of the triggers and environmental, medical, and psychiatric causes of insomnia. This, in turn, can help someone with insomnia manage their problem better.


Insomnia And Headaches

The therapy targets pressure points on the body and face to treat insomnia. In shiatsu, it is believed that the body has “shen,” a spiritual aspect of the being. In individuals with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, shiatsu believes the shen is scattered. The therapy tries to restore the shen to the heart. This relaxing effect of the pressure helps ease the body and mind, giving the recipient more restful sleep.4

Easing Stress And Tension

In a cross-European study on the effectiveness of shiatsu, people with muscle/joint aches, tension, and low energy/fatigue were given therapy for six months. In general, they found that their symptoms improved after shiatsu. Those with symptoms like tension and stress found a fair degree of effect. Between 16 and 22 percent actually reduced their use of traditional allopathic medical treatment for the condition. About 15 to 34 percent reduced their medication5. A separate study on college students who experienced stress and anxiety also yielded results. After shiatsu, 33 percent felt more relaxed and could sleep more. About 17 percent felt a reduction in their stress levels.6


Pain Relief For Better Sleep

Easing a patient’s pain can also help improve sleep quality. In one study, researchers monitored subjects with chronic pain. They were trained to do “hand self-shiatsu” or HSS, and this cut down their sleep latency (time taken to fall asleep from a waking state).7 A separate study of women with fibromyalgia showed that shiatsu methods could help to ease their pain and also improve the quality of sleep.8

Easing Symptoms Of Depression Or Psychiatric Conditions

Shiatsu is also finding acceptance for its role in helping with certain mental ailments. A study in Israel found that patients with schizophrenia who underwent 4 weeks of shiatsu treatment (twice a week) showed improvement that was both clinically and statistically significant.9


A separate study observed the effectiveness of shiatsu in patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for their cancer. The massage was found to produce relaxing effects and ease anxiety.10

Safety First

As with any alternative therapy, it is advised that you consult a trained shiatsu practitioner. Do not attempt to self-learn the techniques. Even if you plan to use self-administered shiatsu massage, first train under an expert. Pregnant women, in particular, should be careful, as there are certain pressure points that can stimulate contractions and cause premature labor. Some individuals with cardiovascular problems may also need to refrain from shiatsu. To check if you are at risk, speak to your doctor or therapist first.