CTQS December 2016 Newsletter Article

Evidence-Based TaijiTM found to promote sleep quality among young adults

by Patrick Dillon and Matthew Komelski, Ph.D.
© 2016 Center for Taiji & Qigong Studies: all rights reserved

Authors Patrick Dillon (left) and Matthew Komelski playing push-hands at summer camp.

In a study recently published in Nature and Science of Sleep, researchers at Appalachian State University reported that Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) may help young adults feel less anxious and sleep better. Among a sample of 75 adults aged 18 to 40 years, those that participated in a 10-week course of Evidence-Based Taiji (EBT) significantly enhanced self-rated sleep quality, and tended to reduce self-rated anxiety, when compared to a control group. This study represents one more of a growing list of randomized controlled trials that support the therapeutic benefits of TCC and has contributed to future TCC research by examining how effectively to study the consequences of TCC in younger persons.

The authors of the study, led by researcher Karen Caldwell, documented the prevalence of anxiety and poor sleep in younger adults that can lead to poor general mental health and poor academic performance. The study addressed the problem by investigating the effectiveness of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for sleep difficulties and anxiety. Additionally the researchers sought to learn if retaining compliance is feasible among younger adults participating in Tai Chi research.

"The most important thing learned from this feasibility study," Caldwell tells us, "is that there is preliminary evidence that Yang Laoshi's tai chi and qigong curriculum can help improve poor sleep quality and lower anxiety in young adults with high anxiety. A more definitive study is needed with at least double the number of participants in order to have enough statistical power to find the differences we have reason to believe do exist between those who participate in tai chi classes and those who don't participate."

Principle Investigator Karen Caldwell.

The study successfully retained the young adult sample long enough to be measured at least twice and to be measured at the 2-month follow-up. However, the rate of class attendance, or practice outside of class during and after the 10-week course, by TCC group did not meet the authors’ expectations. These mixed results have important implications for design of future TCC research in younger adults. As Caldwell explains,

“We found that it was very difficult for college-age participants to make room consistently in their schedules to attend the research tai chi classes which were an extra-curricular activity for the research participants. This is in contrast to our studies with students enrolled in tai chi classes for academic credit. It makes sense that young adults still need the external pressure of an academic grade to attend classes. Randomized control trials are needed for scientific rigor in establishing the effectiveness of tai chi in addressing poor sleep quality and anxiety, and we couldn't randomly assign students to a for-credit course.”

A particularly interesting finding for TCC instructors involved the use of a DVD of the TCC curriculum. The participants in the TCC group who were given the DVD practiced significantly more outside of class compared to participants who were not given the DVD; the DVD group also had greater class attendance at a rate that was nearing statistical significance.

The significant findings in this study were in line with other studies on TCC sleep and anxiety, despite its relatively small sample size. This strong finding is likely due to the strength of the intervention and study design. Overall, the study marks an important contribution towards well-designed TCC research, and adds to the base of evidence supporting the benefits of TCC practice, particularly in younger adults.

Note: Karen Caldwell extends a hearty thanks to her tai chi brothers Bob Schlagal, Eric Petrie, and Tim Winecoff who provided tai chi instruction in the study.


Effects of tai chi chuan on anxiety and sleep quality in young adults: lessons from a randomized controlled feasibility study.Caldwell, K. L., Bergman, S. M., Collier, S. R., Triplett, N. T., Quin, R., Bergquist, J., & Pieper, C. F. (2016). Effects of tai chi chuan on anxiety and sleep quality in young adults: lessons from a randomized controlled feasibility study. Nature and Science of Sleep, 8, 305.

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©2016 Center for Taiji & Qigong Studies.