Poor sleep is associated with increased inflammation, which may contribute to heart disease and a variety of other ailments. A new study has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy and tai chi, the Chinese exercise technique, may reduce both insomnia and inflammation.
Researchers studied 123 people with insomnia who were over age 55. They were randomized to one of three groups. The first received two hours a week of cognitive behavioral therapy over four months, the second the same amount of tai chi practice, and the third, a control group, a four-month educational program about sleep hygiene, aging and insomnia. The study was published in Biological Psychiatry.
At one year after the treatment, compared with the control group, those on cognitive behavioral therapy and tai chi had reduced blood levels of C-reactive protein and reduced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, both indicators of inflammation.
Using blood samples, the researchers also found that both the treatment groups had lower expression of genes related to inflammation and increased expression of genes related to antibody response compared with the control group.
“Tai chi and cognitive therapy are used to treat insomnia because, unlike medication, they produce no unwanted side effects,” said the lead author, Dr. Michael R. Irwin, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“With the improvement in insomnia,” he added, “there’s a reversal of inflammation at the systemic level and the genetic level. Inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease, depression and cancer.”