Sleep is often a problem for cancer survivors, leaving them exhausted as they deal with the side effects of the disease and its treatments. But, a new study may have a solution: yoga.
The study, conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is the largest of its kind and will be presented at the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.
“This is great news for cancer survivors who deal with persistent and debilitating side effects from their cancer and its treatments long after their primary therapy ends. There are few treatments for the sleep problems and fatigue survivors experience that work for very long, if at all,” said Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead investigator and assistant professor of Radiation Oncology and Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. “Yoga is a safe and simple technique that can have multiple benefits for survivors who are looking for solutions.”
People being treated for cancer often report sleep problems and fatigue. Yet, they, along with many doctors and nurses, expect the problems to end when surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is complete. However, studies show that as many as two-thirds of survivors experience them for months after, sometimes years, and they also report sleep aids aren’t effective, said Mustian, one of a handful of scientifically trained exercise psychologists and physiologists specializing in cancer in the United States
The randomized controlled phase II/III study enrolled 410 early-stage cancer survivors, primarily women who had breast cancer, between 2006 and 2009. Half of them attended a twice-a-week specialized yoga program that was developed by Mustian.
Participants in the yoga group reported improved sleep quality and less fatigue, and a better quality of life while reducing the use of sleeping medications following the four-week program. The control group showed increased use of the sleep medications and reported reduced sleep quality, greater fatigue and a poorer quality of life.
Over the years, the benefits of yoga have been debated in the scientific community. Until recently, there were few studies of yoga and an even smaller number of the studies were with cancer patients or survivors. These studies were small and lacked consistency in yoga techniques, making it difficult for researchers to determine clear benefits of its use.
While Mustian is pleased with the success of the program, she’s suspects it’s the breathing, postures and mindfulness components of gentle yoga, individually or in combination, that improve sleep, fatigue and quality of life.