Lack of sleep can make you sick. And while everybody has the occasional restless night, for those who suffer from chronic insomnia — some 15% of older adults in the United States — that sleep loss can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and even lead to an earlier death.
The reason for the increased risk of health problems is thought to be an association between insomnia and an increase in inflammation throughout the body that becomes chronic. Though inflammation can be a good thing — part of a robust immune response that heals injury and fights infection, chronic inflammation can damage and kill healthy cells, leading to disease.
Now UCLA researchers have answered both these questions. In a new study, they demonstrate that reducing insomnia can indeed lead to decreases in inflammation, and second, that a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy proved superior to other forms of treatment.
The results were obtained from a randomized clinical trial of 123 adults older than 55, and showed that treating insomnia led to decreases in a known marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP). The protein is found in blood plasma, and its levels rise in response to an acute inflammatory stimulus. The CRP levels were measured at the beginning of the study, again after treatment, and again in a follow-up 16 months later.
“What we found particularly intriguing was that the levels of the CRP inflammatory marker remained low even 16 months after treating the insomnia,” said Michael Irwin, first author, and a professor of psychiatry and director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
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