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Nov 05, 2015 10:34 AM EST

Better Sleep, Tai Chi May Reduce Inflammation and Improve Health

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Inflammation could be eased by better sleep and tai chi, an ancient Chinese system of movement, according to a recent study.

Swelling and redness are part of the inflammatory processes that occur throughout the body, with a primary function of promoting healing after injury. However, when too active, these inflammatory processes can also damage the body in many ways, and may contribute to heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and other significant medical problems.

Stress, including sleep disturbance, is a major contributor to inflammation in the body. Insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, is associated with increased risk for depression, medical comorbidities, and mortality.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that treatment for insomnia, either by cognitive behavioral therapy or the movement meditation tai chi, reduces inflammation levels in older adults over 55 years of age.

"Behavioral interventions that target sleep reduce inflammation and represent a third pillar, along with diet and physical activity, to promote health and possibly reduce the risk of age-related morbidities including depression," researcher Dr. Michael Irwin said in a statement.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from more than 100 older adults with insomnia. The participants were randomized to receive one of 3 types of classes: cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, the movement meditation tai chi, or a sleep seminar (the control condition).

They found that treatment of sleep disturbance with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia reduces insomnia symptoms, reduces levels of a systemic marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein, and reduces inflammation.

Those participants assigned to the sleep seminar classes showed no significant changes in inflammatory markers.\

The findings are detailed in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"This study suggests that there are behavioral approaches that can improve sleep, reduce stress, and thereby improve health," said Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry. "It is a reminder, once again, that there is no health without mental health."

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