Tai Chi as a Sleep Aid for the Elderly

Many elderly people suffer some form of sleep disorder, and as a treatment, the majority turn to either medications that often have risky side effects, or costly psychotherapies. UCLA researchers have discovered an unexpected natural sleep-aid for the elderly, martial arts.

Tai chi chuan, often referred to as just tai chi, is a martial art form practiced in China for more than 2,000 years. The Chinese believe tai chi to be good for both the body and the mind, with such benefits as relieving pain, improving the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and being meditative. In the west, tai chi has been adapted to a simpler, less-strenuous, meditative form consisting of 20 specific movements, and is referred to as tai chi chih.

112 adults between 59 and 86 years of age, and in generally good health, participated in the study. The participants were randomly split into two groups, and for 25 weeks, one group practiced the 20 tai chi chih movements daily, while the other group took more western measures by taking “health education classes that included advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits” to help with their sleeping.

Researchers “found that the tai chi chih group showed improved sleep quality and a remission of clinical impairments, such as drowsiness during the day and inability to concentrate, compared with those receiving health education. The tai chi chih participants showed improvements in their own self-rating of sleep quality, sleep duration and sleep disturbance.”

It’s been long accepted in the medical field that exercise promotes better sleep, but for elderly individuals, some forms of exercise become increasingly difficult. For this reason, as well and convenience and often doctor’s advice, many elderly people turn to medications that produce side-effects such as drowsiness and confusion, often leading to falls and other health risks. Thankfully, tai chi chih is “a form of exercise virtually every elderly person can do, and this study provides more across-the-board evidence of its health benefits,” says study author Dr. Michael Irwin.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Irwin, Michael. Wheeler, Mark. UCLA news release. June 2008.

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