Could occupational therapy lead to a better night’s sleep?
September 12, 2016
Every occupational therapist knows that the foundation for living well includes a healthy daily balance between work, play, rest and sleep.
But while therapeutic interventions often target patients’ habits, roles, routines and environments during waking hours, their combined effects upon sleeping behaviors — both daytime napping and consolidated nighttime sleep — are sparsely documented within the profession’s research literature. Sleep is an essential occupation associated with health outcomes, and by helping clients to catch more ZZZs, occupational therapists might better support health, well-being and occupational engagement.
To more accurately track sleeping behaviors and trends over time, an all-USC research team — including current and former faculty members, staff, students and alumni — led by Assistant Professor Natalie Leland, who is both an occupational therapist and gerontology researcher, examined napping and sleeping data gathered as part of the USC Well Elderly 2 Study. The Well Elderly 2 Study was a randomized controlled trial funded by the NIH National Institute on Aging to learn how Lifestyle Redesign®, a six-month occupation-based therapeutic intervention, can promote health and quality of life among ethnically diverse, community-living urban older adults.
The research team found that, among all participants who stopped daytime napping during the six-month study period, those who received Lifestyle Redesign gained an average of 48 more minutes of nighttime sleep, while those who did not receive any treatment only gained an average of two more minutes of nighttime sleep. The team’s findings appeared in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
These baseline results, while preliminary, suggest that participation in an occupation-based Lifestyle Redesign intervention may be related to enhanced sleep for older adults. To further develop evidence for the role of occupation-based interventions in improving patient’s sleep health, future research will be needed using standardized instruments such as validated questionnaires and wearable activity sensor devices.
“This exploratory study is consistent with research suggesting that daytime sleep restriction and engagement in daytime activity improves nighttime sleep behaviors,” said Leland. “Occupational therapists take a holistic approach to improving human health and wellness, and if there is indeed a connection between a good night’s sleep and everyday occupation, that will become a critical area of our future practice and research.”