January 1, 2006 Simple techniques inspired by traditional Chinese medicine may help students stay awake during class. Researchers report that college students were more alert if they massaged or tapped areas on the back of the neck, the hands and legs -- areas that acupuncturists believe can stimulate the release of endorphins.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.--Whether it's boredom or just not enough shut-eye, a lot of students have trouble staying awake during class.
For many students, a textbook, paper and pencil are a recipe for sleepiness. Zach Barnes, a ninth grader at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., says, "I don't know how many times I go through a day in school and feel like I'm about to fall asleep."
Now, students are giving their schoolbooks a rest and learning a new way to give their tired brains a boost. Acupuncturist Richard Harris teaches students how putting pressure on specific areas of the body -- called acupressure points -- can help them stay awake.
Richard Harris, an acupuncturist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says, "The stimulation techniques are ways to reduce fatigue or mental fatigue that you may have during the day."
By tapping the top of the head and massaging areas on the back of the neck, hand and leg, researchers believe stimulating these points releases endorphins, or chemicals in the brain that make us feel good and more alert.
"I would be interested to see if people take this as a possible alternative to coke or coffee or other caffeine drinks," Richard says. This self-applied pick-me-up technique might help kids stay focused longer.
Erin Walker, also from Pioneer High School, says, "I'll probably use the one where you're massaging your hand, because it's not obvious or anything."
The acupressure techniques need to be done for several minutes to be effective. In a study at the University of Michigan, researchers found students in a class were significantly more alert and less fatigued after self-administering acupressure treatments.
BACKGROUND: Students in a class were taught to do acupressure on themselves at stimulation points on their legs, feet, hands and heads in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. They were found to be more alert and less fatigued than those students who didn't use acupressure.
WHAT IS ACUPRESSURE? According to traditional Chinese medicine, an energy known as chi travels through our bodies along 14 channels, called meridians. Chinese medicine says that the flow of chi is strengthened, calmed or unblocked by pressing specific points along those meridians. These are believed by advocates of the practice to be places on the skin that are especially sensitive to bioelectrical impulses in the body. Acupuncture uses needles for treatment of chronic pain, for instance. Acupressure is the older massage version of acupuncture, and is used mainly to reduce stress.
HOW IT WORKS: A steady downward pressure is applied with a finger, thumb or palm to a specific point for one to two minutes. Stimulating these points with pressure, needles or heat triggers the release of endorphins -- the neurochemicals that relieve pain. Pain signals are blocked and there is an increased flow of blood and oxygen to the affected area. The muscles relax, and healing can take place more rapidly. While there is some skepticism as to the scientific merit of such treatments, it has been demonstrated that many of the pressure points used in acupressure are located at key crossways of the autonomic nervous system, and that those areas have a higher electrical conductivity on the surface of the skin. Modern scientists have found no evidence that chi exists or flows through the body.
STUDY RESULTS: Thirty-nine students in the University of Michigan's School of Public Health participated in three days of all-day lecture classes. They were divided into two groups. One group gave themselves acupressure to stimulation points on the first day, and to relaxation points on the second and third days. The other administered acupressure to relaxation points for one day, then stimulation points for the second and third days. Students then rated their levels of sleepiness and fatigue at various points throughout each day. The stimulation group of students experienced less sleepiness and were more alert.