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Proprioception supports improved sleep

why deep touch therapy and proprioception can improve sleep

Why Deep Touch and Proprioception can support improved sleep

Giving and receiving a tight hug or squeeze is one of the best feelings in the world.

This isn’t just because of the person you are hugging. Amazing things happen in our body when we give and receive deep touch pressure as we do when we give or receive a hug. Input into our sensory systems can either be alerting or calming. For the purpose of this piece we will only be looking at the touch and proprioceptive systems and the calming influence that they have. Deep touch pressure and proprioception can have a very calming effect on our bodies.
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When someone gives you a hug they provide you with deep touch pressure. When you hug someone else, you provide yourself with proprioceptive feedback.

Proprioceptive input is received through sensory receptors in our muscles, tendons and our joints. These receptors are activated when the muscles are engaged in ‘work’. This work might be giving a hug, cuddling a big teddy, carrying a heavy object or moving against resistance. Receptors for deep touch pressure are found primarily in our skin and are activated by external stimulation to the skin. Sensory information from these 2 sensory systems travels along neural pathways to areas of the brain that are responsible for, amongst many other things, our levels of arousal/ alertness and emotional regulation.

What is fright or flight ? 

When our nervous system is alerted to a threat in our environment our Sympathetic Nervous System comes into play to prepare us for ‘survival’. It triggers something known as the Fight, Fright or Flight response which is designed to keep us safe from harm. The Fight, Fright or Flight response results in, amongst other things, an accelerated heart rate, increase in blood pressure, increased (shallow) breathing rate, tension in muscles, increased cortisol production (stress hormone). 

This is a very helpful response in times of real danger, where we need to react quickly. In current times though, we are experiencing high levels of sensory overload, anxiety and stress in our lives on an ongoing basis. Our body reacts to this state of stress and overload in much the same way as it would to a real

We thus end up spending much of our day in a hyper-alert state, ready to react to a threat, even in non-threatening environments. In order to maintain a regulated state, our body has a balancing mechanism that helps to restore homeostasis, entitled, The Parasympathetic Nervous System. This system needs to be activated to counter the effect of the sympathetic nervous system. Research has demonstrated that deep touch pressure and proprioceptive feedback can activate the parasympathetic nervous system.


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Why is the parasympathetic nervous system important for sleep? 

The parasympathetic nervous system helps us to feel calm and regulated. Deep touch and proprioceptive input activate this system and allow us to feel safe. This sensory input triggers the release of ‘feel good’ hormones, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin. Oxytocin specifically plays a very important role in regulating our stress response. These hormones trigger a series a of events that lowers our cortisol levels, and regulates our heart rate, our blood pressure and our breathing.
Deep touch and proprioception decrease the body’s hyper reactive response to stress and other sensations. This calming effect helps us to feel more grounded and lowers our levels of arousal.


This in turn helps us to feel calm, relaxed and regulated and ready for a good night’s sleep.


From a therapeutic viewpoint, the value of the Siest Sleep pillows lies in the fact that not only do they provide deep touch pressure, but they also provide opportunities for proprioceptive feedback as one hugs and cuddles the pillow during the night.

Contributed by Dana Katz-Murphy, Occupational Therapist & Clinical Services Manager at Sensational Kids. Sensational Kids is a non-profit organisation that provides subsidised therapy supports for children of all abilities including those with additional needs. For further information on Sensational Kids, please visit


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Patients have tried these sleepers with great anecdotal success. I am very happy to recommend as a sleep tool for improved sleep quality



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See one of of our best selling weighted sleepers