Poor sleep quality is a common problem among older adults. Many have moderate sleep complaints, where they experience insomnia-like symptoms but are not yet diagnosed with insomnia. Sedative medications are commonly used to treat sleep disorders but can cause harmful side effects, and behavioral interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy are not always practical. Few treatments focus on improving sleep quality in people with moderate complaints. Tai chi chih—the Westernized version of the Chinese slow-motion meditative exercise tai chi—may serve as an effective alternative approach.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a randomized controlled trial, funded in part by NCCAM, to determine whether tai chi chih could improve sleep quality in healthy, older adults with moderate sleep complaints. In the study, 112 individuals aged 59 to 86 participated in either tai chi chih training or health education classes for 25 weeks. Participants rated their sleep quality based on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a self-rate questionnaire that assesses sleep quality, duration, and disturbances.
The results of the study showed that the people who participated in tai chi chih sessions experienced slightly greater improvements in self-reported sleep quality. The researchers concluded that tai chi chih can be a useful nonpharmacologic approach to improving sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep complaints, and may help to prevent the onset of insomnia.
Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Motivala SJ. Improving sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep complaints: a randomized controlled trial of tai chi chih. Sleep.; 31(7):1001–1008.2008