Can Tai Chi help the elderly sleep better?

Key points

  • Many elderly people have insomnia, which may be due to changes in the circadian rhythm with age.
  • Studies have found that Chinese martial arts Tai Chi helps to improve sleep habits.
  • A new study of more than 60 adults with chronic insomnia found that Tai Chi is as effective as traditional exercise in improving sleep.

Mindfulness meditation, massage, yoga, lavender oil, magnesium supplements… these are just some of the natural remedies that people use to improve sleep. Now, after a randomized clinical trial that found that Tai Chi is associated with moderate sleep improvement in people over 60 years of age, we seem to be able to add Tai Chi to the list.

The research was published in JAMA Cyber ​​Open, In a research unit in Hong Kong for more than four years. The researchers randomly assigned 105 participants to Tai Chi for 12 weeks, exercise for 105 to 12 weeks, and 110 participants to a non-intervention control group. Each participant had chronic insomnia before the start of the study and was 60 years of age or older.

Naueen Safdar, MD

As people get older, people naturally fall asleep earlier, but sleep shorter at night. Older people are more likely to nap during the day and wake up more frequently at night.

— Naueen Safdar, MD

Activity recording is a non-invasive technique used to assess activity and rest periods over a few days or weeks. It is used to assess the sleep of participants. The researchers also used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score, the insomnia severity index score, and the participants’ own reports in the 7-day sleep diary to evaluate at the beginning of the trial, immediately after the trial, and 24 months after the trial.

Both regular exercise and Tai Chi are associated with moderate sleep improvement and lasted for 24 months. These improvements include improved sleep efficiency and reduced time to wake up at night. It is worth noting that Tai Chi is as effective as traditional exercises in improving sleep.

A previous study published in 2013 found that Tai Chi is an ideal exercise for the elderly and has been proven to significantly improve sleep quality.

What happens to sleep habits as we age?

Studies have shown that changing sleep patterns is a normal part of the aging process. “As they get older, they naturally fall asleep earlier, but sleep shorter at night,” said Naueen Safdar, MD, medical director of EHE Health. “Older people are more likely to nap during the day and wake up more frequently at night.”

According to the Sleep Foundation, these changes occur due to changes in the circadian rhythm-older people are usually less exposed to direct sunlight, which affects the production of hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. This disturbs the natural circadian rhythm and causes sleep deterioration. Safdar said that although this is a common part of the aging process, it can have a negative impact on a person’s health and well-being.

Safdar added that mental and physical health issues, such as anxiety or heart disease, can also negatively affect sleep patterns. In addition, medications prescribed for these conditions can also affect sleep.

Lifestyle changes to improve sleep

Commitment to small changes in lifestyle can significantly improve sleep quality, and exercise is important. “A healthy, active lifestyle is essential for good sleep,” Safdar said. However, many elderly people are unable to perform certain forms of exercise, and this is where Tai Chi comes in.

This gentle form of exercise can improve the sleep patterns of healthy elderly and people with chronic health problems. Tai Chi is even considered to be another behavioral therapy that can be used to treat most people’s insomnia. It is as effective as other strenuous exercises that may not be suitable for the elderly.

Victoria Weatherer

Tai Chi breathing can relax the body and mind and proceed consistently over time. It can actually calm the fast-paced mind, lower the level of cortisol in our body, and reduce the level of pain in the body.

— Victoria Weatherer

Victoria Wesseler, a board-certified Tai Chi and Qigong instructor who has coached for 11 years, said that one of the most incredible treatments of Tai Chi is the deep breathing technique, namely abdominal breathing or Dantian breathing.

“This kind of breathing relaxes the body and mind and continues over time. It actually calms the fast mind, lowers the level of cortisol in our body, and reduces the level of physical pain,” Wesseler said.

Coupled with the slow and relaxing body movements of Tai Chi, which can strengthen and heal the body, Wessel said that you have a perfect process that can help the body and mind reach the much-needed state of relaxation to get the best sleep.

Susan Schuler

Tai Chi helps the mind to be calm, clear, creative and energetic, and the spirit is light, calm but down-to-earth and tenacious. Practicing quietly is a deep form of meditation that not only reduces stress but also helps us feel happy. Physically, it makes us stronger, but at the same time soft, balanced and full of energy.

— Susan Schuler

Chinese medicine believes that Tai Chi can strengthen the body gas (This is our “life force”, Wesseler explained). “When the mind is in a state of confusion due to stress, anxiety, depression, and/or pain, people think that the qi in the body will stagnate, which impairs the body’s ability to relax, fall, and stay asleep,” Wesseler said.

“Tai Chi practice improves the quality and movement of Qi in the body. The stronger the Qi, the more balanced a person’s body will be, and he can relax and experience the good sleep he wants,” explains Wesseler.

Susan Schuler, a Taoist Tai Chi coach in Brandon, Florida, agrees that Tai Chi is very good for health. “It can help the mind to be calm, clear, creative and energetic, and make the mind relaxed, calm, down-to-earth, and resilient,” she said. “Practicing quietly is a deep form of meditation. It not only reduces stress but also helps us feel happy. Physically, it makes us stronger, but at the same time soft, balanced and full of energy.”

Schuler referred to a survey of members of the Taoist Taijiquan Association (mainly the elderly). The survey found that 25% of respondents felt less stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, 29% of people reported that their muscle problems and circulation had improved, and more than 50% felt that their coordination had improved.

Victoria Weatherer

The slow and gentle movements of Tai Chi are deceptively healing, strengthening and restoring for people of all ages. In my opinion, Tai Chi should become a regular part of the exercise program for everyone of every age group.

— Victoria Weatherer

Tai Chi can provide huge benefits at any age

The benefits of Tai Chi to the health and well-being of the elderly are well documented, but it is a misunderstanding that Tai Chi is only suitable for the elderly or the infirm.

“Unfortunately, this is a stereotype of many people in the Western world, which is far from the truth,” Wesseler said. “Tai Chi’s slow and gentle movements have deceptive healing, strengthening, and recovery effects for people of all ages. In my opinion, Tai Chi should become a regular part of the exercise program for everyone at every age.” Harvard The medical school calls this practice “drugs in sports.”

“Although it looks like a mild exercise, Tai Chi is a low-intensity aerobic exercise that burns as many calories as brisk walking,” Wesseler explained. “It provides treatment and support for those who suffer from many age-related problems, such as memory loss, dementia, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, chemotherapy brain (a common term used by cancer survivors, Used to describe what may happen after cancer treatment), as well as back and spine problems.”

What this means to you

If you or your loved one has insomnia, Tai Chi can help. If there are no courses in your area, there are plenty of online Tai Chi courses available. If you have mobility issues or other underlying health problems, please consult your doctor before starting.

Remember, Tai Chi is not only suitable for the elderly! People of all ages can benefit from this gentle, low-intensity aerobic exercise.

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