Improving sleep quality
August 2008 - Research from the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology published in Sleep found that practising tai chi chih, the western version of an ancient Chinese martial art, helped improve sleep quality in older adults. It has previously been shown to be effective in reducing tension headaches and high blood pressure and in boosting the immune system of elderly people with shingles.
Researchers explain that 58 per cent of adults age 59 and older report difficulties in sleeping. The majority (85 per cent) do not seek treatment. The remainder tend to rely on costly, sometimes inaccessible behavioral therapies or more commonly on sedatives with possible side-effects. Poor sleep is associated with significant health problems in this age group.
Lead author Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences commented:
"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."
The study randomly assigned 112 healthy adults ranging in age from 59 to 86 to one of two groups for 25 weeks The first practised 20 simple tai chi chih moves; the second group received health education classes that included advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits. Participants were asked to rate themselves using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a questionnaire that assesses sleep quality, duration and disturbances over a one-month period.
Researchers found that, compared to the health education group, those practising tai chi chih reported improvements both in sleep patterns and in associated problems such as daytime drowsiness and inability to concentrate. There is general support for the role of physical exercise in improving sleep; the gentle slow movements of tai chi chih offer an attractive option for older people.
Michael Irwin concluded:
"It's a form of exercise virtually every elderly...