Foot reflexology is a manual therapy that is part of alternative or complementary medicine. It consists of stimulating the plantar and dorsal surfaces of the feet through different types of massage. Foot reflexology is an ancient technique whose benefits have been scientifically demonstrated, particularly on anxiety and relaxation. This is why foot reflexology is particularly recommended for sleep disorders such as difficulty falling asleep, mental ruminations, nocturnal awakenings, etc.
The history of foot reflexology
The first traces of foot reflexology date back to 2330 BC. BC on the tomb of Ankhmahor in Egypt. We then find evidence of its use by Buddhists in the 6th century (1) . In Europe, reflex zone therapy on which modern reflexology is based was described in the work of doctors Adamus and A’tatis in 1582 (2) .
Plantar reflexology was formalized in the West by the American physician Dr. Fitzgerald in 1917. He noticed a link between the perception of pain and the pressure exerted on specific areas of the foot. He therefore created the first representation of the plantar faces in 10 zones.
In the 1930s, his collaborator Eunice Ingham, a physiotherapist, improved the description of the zones. She thus proposed a cartography which is very close to that used today. Eunice Ingham is therefore considered the pioneer of foot reflexology.
How does foot reflexology work for sleep?
In addition to the theory of reflex zones, plantar reflexology is based on the principles of Chinese energy medicine. The healthy body is considered to respect a balance between the forces of yin and yang. If this is no longer the case, foot reflexology stimulates the missing energy to restore balance. Indeed, a reflexologist feels a particular consistency in the organs that are dysfunctional. In addition, when the area corresponding to this organ is stimulated, more or less significant pain is generally felt.
The yin forces represent matter and deep tissues. Symptoms that indicate a yin imbalance are widespread pain with thick, hard, or swollen tissues. This means that there is an internal problem and organ rest. To restore yin disorders, heat and movement will be beneficial.
Rather, yang forces represent energy and movement. If stimulation of the reflex zones creates an acute and throbbing feeling, a bit like an electric shock, then the problem is more of a yang type. To improve it, cold and rest are recommended.
We therefore notice that the two systems are like the scales of a balance. During a yin condition, it will be necessary to awaken the yang. And conversely, we will energize the yin to restore the yang.
Concretely, the plantar reflexology techniques are different if you want to act on the yin or the yang. To restart an organ or system, circular pressure is exerted in a clockwise direction. On the contrary, if the system is tense or overloaded, we will disperse the tensions by turning counterclockwise.
Foot reflexology zones for sleep
Sleep is a complex mechanism in which many factors intervene. Too large meals in the evening, too much time spent on screens, stress, unsuitable physical activities, age, etc. are all reasons that deteriorate the quality of our sleep.
If you are concerned by sleep disorders, a few foot reflexology sessions will first of all help you soothe yourself, reduce the pressure and let go. Indeed, taking time for yourself is already a first step towards rest.
But several scientific studies have also demonstrated that brain wave activity was modified towards a state of drowsiness during a foot reflexology session . We therefore understand very well the benefit of foot reflexology for sleep.
In addition, scientists have shown using electroencephalograms that foot reflexology reduces the number of parallel processes active in the brain . The brain would thus be in a more relaxed state, which would limit sleep problems linked to mental ruminations.
In addition to relaxation, I work with foot reflexology massage on specific reflex zones.
The intestine is a key organ in sleep. In fact, 90% of neurotransmitters are synthesized by the intestines. It is therefore essential to have regular transit, a daily intake of fiber , vegetable fats, minerals and vitamins. During the foot reflexology massage, I seek to restart transit to free the intestines . This allows toxins to be evacuated and stimulates intestinal peristalsis.
The solar plexus
The solar plexus is located below the sternum, in the middle of our diaphragm. It is a place for storing tensions and emotions. So that these can circulate, it is therefore important to relax the solar plexus. When we bury our tensions and emotions, it causes “knots” in the fascia (deep tissues). This results in resistance and pain points where toxins accumulate. Our energy can therefore no longer circulate.
During a foot reflexology massage for sleep, I will therefore relax these points. This helps unclog the fascia and revive our energy.
Located at the top of the toes in the reflex zone map, the endocrine glands manage our entire hormonal system. One of the endocrine glands is the pineal gland which secretes melatonin , called the sleep hormone.
This hormone regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and therefore the alternations between waking and sleeping phases. More generally, the pituitary gland is another endocrine gland which is the “conductor” of the entire endocrine system.
Depending on the needs and the type of pressure applied, foot reflexology helps calm, balance or stimulate the endocrine glands. By rebalancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, plantar reflexology acts on the root causes of poor sleep.
The adrenal glands
In our body, the adrenal glands are located just above each kidney. They synthesize and release hormones into the blood, including adrenaline and cortisol . These hormones are produced in response to stress , to put the body in a state of alert which allows it to react to danger. However, when the state of stress becomes chronic, the level of cortisol remains high in the body, which has multiple impacts on the body.
In foot reflexology, the adrenal glands are also located above the kidneys, slightly to the right of the aponeurosis. Massage helps rebalance the cortisol/adrenaline balance and balances yin and yang. This promotes calm and peaceful nights. Several studies have shown that foot reflexology reduces cortisol levels as well as stress and anxiety.
The adrenal glands are also involved in the process of glycogen breakdown and glucose synthesis . Stimulating them is therefore always beneficial.
Sleep disorders and foot reflexology
Difficulty falling asleep or waking up at night is an imbalance of the fire element in Chinese medicine. In foot reflexology, I will not perform the same massage if you come for problems falling asleep or waking up at night. But in all cases, I work on the reflex zones of the nervous system to rebalance it.
Difficulty falling asleep
Problems falling asleep come from an imbalance of yang energy. So I work in deep and slow massage. I particularly focus on the heart, small intestine and solar plexus. The massage also brings a lot of relaxation and allows general relaxation , an essential appeasement for falling asleep.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is linked to an imbalance in yin energy. The massage will be done around faster and lighter movements in order to revive this failing energy. We will also work the heart but also the areas of the brain located on the tips of the toes.
Scientific studies have in fact demonstrated that foot reflexology reduces average arterial pressure, pulse rate and blood pressure. This results in a reduction in anxiety , which often acts positively on insomnia.
Sleep disrupted by esophageal reflux
Food hygiene is at the forefront of reflux problems, followed by action on stress. Foot reflexology is very interesting for all these problems. I work first of all on overall relaxation and in particular relaxation of the diaphragm.
Indeed, in many people, a contracted diaphragm causes pressure on the cardia. Under the effect of this pressure, this valve located between the stomach and the esophagus opens. It then lets acidity pass through, which creates very unpleasant rises. By freeing the diaphragm, we therefore provide a mechanical and lasting response to these disorders to improve sleep and quality of life. I also stimulate the esophagus, stomach and cardia so that they regain their function.
We have seen that foot reflexology provides many concrete and proven answers to sleep disorders. The relaxation provided by foot reflexology reduces stress and anxiety which are often major causes of poor sleep. In addition to the nervous system, the hormonal system is regulated to ensure proper production of sleep hormones. Emotions and the digestive system are also rebalanced by foot reflexology.
However, it is not enough to massage a painful area to obtain improvement or revival of the organ concerned. Depending on the origin of your health problems, comprehensive care is often necessary (diet, physical activity, lifestyle habits, etc.) Indeed, our body is a very complex machine where the endocrine, hormonal and psychological systems are closely intertwined.