Researchers have found a way to keep students awake during class

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Whether it's triggered by the monotone of an instructor or insufficient rest the night before, students at all ages and grade levels sometimes have trouble staying awake in class.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have found a way to combat the sleepiness and to keep students awake during class, and it doesn't have anything to do with caffeine or high-sugar snacks.

In a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, they report that students in a class who were taught to self-administer acupressure treatments to stimulation points on their legs, feet, hands and heads were more alert and less fatigued.

"The study showed that a stimulation acupressure regimen leads to a statistically significant reduction in sleepiness compared to an acupressure treatment that focuses on relaxation," says Richard E. Harris, Ph.D., research investigator in the Division of Rheumatology at the U-M Medical School's Department of Internal Medicine and a researcher at the U-M Health System's Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

"Our finding suggests that acupressure can change alertness in people who are in classroom settings for a full day – which could be very good news for students who have trouble staying alert at school."

The 39 students who participated in the study were in the On Job/On Campus executive education program in U-M's School of Public Health who were participating in three days of all-day lecture classes. Students were taught how to self-apply acupressure regimens on either five stimulatory points or five relaxation points. The regimens consisted of light tapping with the fingers, and massaging with thumbs or forefingers.

The class was divided into two groups. One group of students was asked to self-administer acupressure to the stimulation points on the first day, followed by relaxation points on days two and three. The other group self-administered relaxation for one day, then stimulation for days two and three. Sleepiness was assessed by the validated Stanford Sleepiness Scale, and students rated their levels of sleepiness in the morning,before class began and in the late afternoon, at the conclusion of class. Acupressure was administered mid-day during the lunch period.

The fact that the stimulation group had significantly less fatigue than the other group has interesting implications for future studies of acupressure, says Harris, who himself is a trained acupuncturist.

"The idea that acupressure can have effects on human alertness needs more study, including research that can examine the scope of influence acupressure can have on alertness and fatigue," Harris says. "Ideally, research in the future will help us determine whether acupressure also can have an impact on performance in the classroom as well."

Brenda Gillespie, Ph.D., of the Course on Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis at the U-M School of Public Health, was the senior author. In addition to Harris and Gillespie, authors on the study were Joanne Jeter, M.D., Paul Chan, M.D., Peter Higgins, M.D., Ph.D., Feng-Ming Kong, M.D., Reza Fazel, M.D., and Candace Bramson, M.D., all of the Course on Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis at the U-M School of Public Health; and Cohort 11 of the U-M Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis Program.

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