I first started to obsess over my sleep when I became a parent — finally appreciating it only once it felt unattainable. Once my daughter began to sleep through the night, I preciously guarded my own bedtime routine and prided myself on getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. But lately, the demands of parenting, work, and an increased travel schedule have encroached on my routine and sleep quality. I hit my breaking point after back-to-back weekends of interrupted sleep on an air mattress. Back home, when sleeping in my own bed wasn’t enough to restore my sleep, I was faced with my own sleep-through-the-night dilemma. I was desperate for a reset, and the timing of a product review assignment offering improved sleep quality couldn’t have been better.
As a 40-year-old mother who works from home, considers Target runs to be her cardio, and uses her yoga mat exclusively for corpse pose, it’s safe to say I’m not even remotely athletic. So, the idea of using a tool favored by pro athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo had me curious, if not a little skeptical.
But it turns out that one of Therabody’s product goals is to use percussive therapy to improve overall wellness, including better sleep, offering benefits to mere mortals in addition to the elite athletes and weekend warriors who love them.
The company developed a 6-minute massage protocol on the Therabody app, targeting areas that tend to have built-up tension, including the neck, lower back, forearms, quads, shins, and feet, for 30-second treatments each. The notion behind the wind-down protocol is that a whole-body routine maximizes relaxation effects and increases circulation, which helps thermoregulation as the body cools down for the night — all to promote better rest.
So, in the name of a better night’s rest, I accepted a Theragun Prime massager in order to test the Therabody app’s guided 6-minute sleep protocol, 30 minutes before bedtime, every night for one week. To track my progress, I took qualitative notes each evening and morning to track how I slept and how my body and energy levels felt. At the very least, I reasoned, I’d get a massage before bed.
Before embarking on the week-long test, I took stock of my before-Therabody sleep status quo, journaling my pain points over three nights of sleep and setting my expectations for what I hoped the Theragun’s percussive massaging could help me address. I’m usually in bed and asleep by 9:30 to 10 p.m., rising at 6 a.m.
My pre-Therabody pain points
- I take melatonin before bed to help me fall asleep, but it doesn’t always help me stay asleep. If I awaken during the night, I’m often unable to get back to sleep. Instead, I climb aboard the anxiety merry-go-round and ruminate on to-do’s, deadlines, and news headlines.
- As a writer who works from home, I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, with very tight IT (ilio-tibial) bands and hip flexors as a result. Sometimes that discomfort wakes me up in the night.
- I grind my teeth and clench my jaw at night, so often wake with a sore jaw.
Hopes and expectations for the Therabody massage protocol
- Promote relaxation and allow me to sleep through the night or achieve less interrupted sleep
- Reduce overall pain by increasing blood flow through nightly massage
- Reduce anxiety and stress by relieving tension in neck, trapezoids, and low back
- Improve circulation and regulate body temperature help with any thermal discomfort
Night one using the Theragun Prime:
The eager student that I am, I headed upstairs to my bedroom at 9 p.m. sharp to unbox my Theragun. I was so eager to get started that I didn’t take the time to walk through the routine in advance. Pro tip: Walk yourself through the routine with the Theragun powered off to ensure that you pinpoint the right muscle groups. You can even practice different grips to maintain correct form.
I inadvertently ran the massager over my deltoids instead of my traps, which caused an unnerving bobbling feeling across my bones.
Other than that, though, I really enjoyed completing the routine. It felt as if I were making good on my self-care promise. The best massages were on the low back and feet — after I massaged my feet and slipped them into my slippers, I could almost hear them singing, “Ahhhhhh.”
I slept through the night without any disruptions. I awoke the next morning feeling well-rested with a clear mind, and my body even felt loose (apart from sore traps, due either to sleeping too deeply in one position or massaging with too much gusto). I must’ve been much more relaxed during the night than usual, because I didn’t wake up with a sore jaw either.
I was so excited to get my massage on that I cut short my evening Netflix viewing with my husband. When he walked in on me sitting on the edge of the bed with my device, he looked at me accusingly, as if I were cheating on him with my Theragun.
Feeling gung-ho, I added 30 seconds on each leg to target my IT bands.
The next morning, despite not sleeping as soundly as the first night, I didn’t feel so stiff and creaky stepping out of bed, and I had better energy stamina throughout the day.
Nights three and four:
When I woke after night three, I had less pain in my hip flexors and IT bands, and my body felt much looser and more limber. However, the tendons by my ankles were sore, and I wondered if I had done the shin massage incorrectly or too aggressively (there's not much muscle there, it turns out). So, I skipped my shins on night four, which felt like a blessing, as it allowed me to shave off a bit of time in the protocol and focus on the areas where the massage felt most pleasant.
As “Atomic Habits” has taught us, changes to routines can be challenging, even if massage is involved, so keeping things shorter and more manageable was key to this success. My husband also vocalized his diminished support. Perhaps it was a bit of jealousy — or a sign that we need a motion-isolating mattress — but when I sat on the edge of the bed to massage my feet, he said, “Can you do that somewhere else? It’s vibrating my head.” Word to the wise — encourage your partner to get in on the routine!
Nights five through seven:
The morning after night five, I found I had hit my sweet spot. I'd slept soundly without interruption, my body felt loose upon waking, and I had virtually no pain in my hip flexor area. Later that day, my body still felt limber despite my shackling myself to my desk to crank out stories on deadline, and my energy levels never wavered (even when my 6-year-old performed some spectacular bedtime-stalling tactics). The positive benefits of experiencing decreased pain, feeling well-rested overall, and enjoying sustained energy carried through day six and day seven, though by then I had decreased the length of time I massaged my forearms and begun to skip the shins altogether. As with any changes to wellness routines, it’s important to listen to your body and adjust the routine or reduce time lengths accordingly.
The results of my week with Therabody
My overall results — less interrupted sleep, relief from pain, decreased tension, and sustained energy levels during the day — seemed to align with findings from a sleep study Therabody commissioned with Biostrap Labs. (The sample included 73 participants, 18 to 40 years old, who exercised a minimum of 3 times per week for more than 30 minutes.) Scientists found that after following the Theragun routine, 87% of participants fell asleep faster, 70% of participants had fewer sleep disruptions, 56% of participants improved their overall sleep score, and 100% of participants reported improvements in overall quality of life. Although the Therabody sleep study claims that the benefits lasted for a week after participants stopped following the sleep protocol, I didn’t find that I slept as soundly during that period as I had during the week-long trial.
To better help me understand my results and assess the viability of Therabody’s impressive claims, I reached out Dr. Chris Winter, sleep neurologist, Sleep.com Sleep Advisor, and author of “The Sleep Solution” and “The Rested Child.” Winter says that while there have not been extensive peer-reviewed studies, the claims to improve sleep quality are plausible.
As a fan of percussive devices like the Theragun, Winter maintains that using a percussive massage device to self-massage can be a relaxing ritual to incorporate into a bedtime routine. When I shared that I experienced pain relief and reduced tension, he agreed that increased blood flow from the massage was likely a contributing factor. Winter says that although some of the sleep study’s numbers seem low — for example, a 9% decrease in pain rating and a 5% decrease in soreness and daily discomfort — those small improvements can make a difference.
“As we often tell patients and athletes, if we can make your body feel 5% better, and your rituals 5% better, and your bed clothing 5% better, and your mattress 5% better, all those little 5%'s can add up,” Winter says.
What’s most telling, Winter says, are Theragun’s product satisfaction scores: Of the study's participants, 85% reported improvements in overall performance, and 100% reported improvements in overall quality of life.
“To me, the product satisfaction really means something,” Winter says. “I think it’s okay to start there and say look, ‘We’re trying to understand more about what this is actually doing and why people like it so much.’” The mental benefits can go a long way in helping with long-term sleep improvement.
In using the Theragun Prime, I found that it encouraged better bedtime habits. I consistently started winding down for bed 30 minutes before lights out, which could’ve been the biggest benefit of all. It also made me pay more attention to other sleep hygiene factors, like maintaining a cooler temperature in my bedroom, dimming the lights in the house an hour before bed, and reading a book instead of doomscrolling on my phone till my eyelids get heavy.
Whether or not I choose to consistently follow Theragun’s sleep protocol now that my week-long trial has concluded, I’m grateful that it helped me reset my bedtime routine and remember how revitalizing good sleep can be. And just knowing that I have an effective tool in my sleep kit is all the comfort I need to rest easy at night.