Health News

Tai chi helps older adults get good night's sleep

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Regular practice of tai chi chih, a Westernized version of the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi, can help older people rest easier at night, according to a study in the journal Sleep.

Nearly two-thirds of people who learned the slow, gentle tai chi chih moves experienced significant improvements in sleep quality, compared to about one-third of those who participated in health education sessions that included information on how to get a better night’s rest.

In fact, the benefits of tai chi chih were similar to those seen with drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), study chief Dr. Michael R. Irwin of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA told Reuters Health.

Studies show that more than half of older adults experience sleeping problems at least a few times a week, Irwin and his team note in their report. While CBT can ease insomnia, few therapists have the training to offer this type of treatment, which is also relatively expensive. And while aerobic exercise can also help people sleep better, vigorous workouts aren’t an option for many seniors.

To investigate whether tai chi chih might be an option, Irwin and his team analyzed sleep quality in 112 people aged 59 to 86 participating in a randomized, controlled trial of the martial art for preventing shingles. Tai chi chih instruction was given in 45-minute sessions, three times a week.

A subset of 52 study participants scored in the “poor” range on a standardized test of sleep quality. Among the 30 poor sleepers in the tai chi group, 19 (63 percent) had moved into the “good” sleep category after 16 weeks of tai chi instruction and another 9 weeks of independent practice. But for the 22 poor sleepers in the health education group, just 7 (32 percent) were sleeping well after 25 weeks of classes.

When tai chi chih group members were practicing on their own, Irwin noted, they logged 161 minutes a week. “That’s close to 20 to 30 minutes a day on average, which is pretty remarkable,” he said.

“The other thing I thought was pretty remarkable is how few dropouts we had in our study,” Irwin added, noting that just seven of the 59 people in the tai chi chih group didn’t complete the study.

SOURCE: Sleep 2008.