Martial Art Improves Sleep of Elderly

Author:  Brittany Raffa

Date:  June 2008

UCLA researchers will soon publish a study in the journal Sleep that contains support for the practice of tai chi chih among the elderly to improve sleep quality. The study involved the sleep habits of two elderly groups – one which attended health education courses and another which participated in tai chi chih. Members of the latter group reported a decrease in sleep-related problems, a hardship that plagues many seniors.

The study consisted of placing 112 healthy adults between ages 59 and 86 into one of two groups for 25 weeks. The first group attended health education classes focusing on stress management, diet and sleep habits. The second group practiced 20 tai chi chih moves. Prior to initiating the study, participants ranked their sleep using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a self-rated questionnaire that assesses sleep quality, duration and disturbances over a one-month time interval. The results demonstrated that the adults in the tai chi chih group improved their sleep quality and experienced a decrease in certain effects such as drowsiness during the day and difficulty concentrating, in comparison to those in the health education group.

The study may provide a new option for elderly suffering sleep problems. "Poor sleeping constitutes one of the most common difficulties facing older adults," stated Dr. Michael Irwin, the lead study author and Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. 58% of people over the age of 58 report sleeping problems each week but only 15% of them are ever treated. The usual advice is to use sedatives, however, these may have side effects. "It's not uncommon for older adults to experience daytime confusion, drowsiness, falls and fractures, and adverse interactions with other medications they may be taking," Irwin said.

Tai chi chih was developed in 1974 in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the westernized version of a 2,000 year-old martial art. It consists of a sequence of 19 slow movements and 1 pose which make it easy for the elderly to practice due to their physical limitations.

"It's a form of exercise virtually every elderly person can do, and this study provides more across-the-board evidence of its health benefits," Irwin said.

The research was a secondary result of a study published in April 2007 by Irwin that showed tai chi chih boosted the immune system of elderly people suffering from shingles.

Written by: Brittany Raffa

Reviewed by: Neil Majithia

Published by: Konrad Sawicki