Benefits of Low-Cost Treatments like Massage and Guided Imagery for Insomnia

Many patients in a progressive care unit suffer from difficulty sleeping, as well as pain and anxiety.  In a recent study, researchers found that clinical massage and guided imagery might be a low-cost benefit to treating insomnia, anxiety, and pain in these patients.

The progressive care units in hospitals are for patients who are more stable than patients in the intensive care unit (ICU); however, they still need to be closely monitored with nursing care than those on regular hospital wards.  Patients on these wards have varying degrees of illnesses and morbidities.  It is well known that patients on the progressive care unit suffer high levels of anxiety, pain, and difficulty sleeping, so researchers are looking for non-pharmacological ways to treat these comorbidities.

While this was a small-scale study, using a sample size of 288 inpatients on two different progressive care units, scientists are hopeful in their discovery.  Findings were published in the journal, Critical Care Nurse.

The patients on the first progressive care unit were given a free 15-minute clinical massage every day by a trained massage therapist in the integrative medicine department at Beaumont’s Troy, Mich campus.  The therapist used Swedish massage techniques, typically targeting the hands and feet or neck and scalp, according to the patient’s comfort level.

Those on the second progressive care unit were offered 30 minutes of guided imagery meditation via an audio recording.  This recording focused on pain and anxiety reduction, as well as promoting sleep.  On discharge, these patients were asked if they had listened to the recording and, if they did, how many times.  Patients also gave their reason for listening to the recording – whether it was pain, anxiety, and/or insomnia – and reported whether or not it was helpful.

Results found that massage had an immediate benefit with reduction in self-reported anxiety and pain.  Additionally, guided-imagery patients reported improvement in their insomnia, as well as in their pain and anxiety.  Using an 11-point scale for the massage intervention, more than 80% of these patients reported at least a 1-point decrease in pain and anxiety after treatment.

More than 85% of guided-imagery patients reported some form of improvement in their insomnia, pain, and anxiety.

These reported improvements, while subjective, are dramatic when looking at pain, anxiety, and insomnia scores.  It shows that the treatment interventions had a positive impact on the patients’ well-being.

 Lead author of the study, Gail Elliott Patricolo from Integrative Medicine at Beaumont Health System notes that the results of these interventions are positive and can be used in practical measures to improve patient care, but that there needs to be additional education to staff and patients on these methods.

Further studies will need to be done on a larger scale, to include a more diverse population sample.  Additionally, it would be beneficial to add treatment options to the study that would include patients with visual or hearing impairments.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her


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