Did you know that yoga can help cancer patients sleep better?

December 09, 2013 2 min read

Great news for people trying to sleep. Practicing yoga can help people who have had cancer sleep better and reduce their use of sleep aids, according to new research.

Cool-jams and yoga help sleep
Cool-jams and yoga help sleep

Researchers found that women with a history of breast cancer, reported  improvements in sleep quality and sleep duration when they attended yoga sessions twice weekly. Regardless of whether people had mild sleep disruption or a clinical diagnosis of insomnia, people who participated in yoga experienced the same amount of sleep improvement. Mustian said between 30 and 90 percent of cancer survivors report some form of sleep disturbance. That can be due to anxiety about a cancer diagnosis, related health problems or side effects of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. Studies suggest yoga can lower blood pressure and improve anxiety, depression and insomnia.

The study included Gentle Hatha yoga, which focuses on physical postures, and Restorative yoga, with an emphasis on relaxation, breathing and meditation. The study included 410 people with a history of cancer  recruited from twelve U.S. cities. Participants were of an average age of 54. Most  were white and female, and 3/4's  had experienced breast cancer. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half of them attended a standardized yoga program for cancer survivors that met for 75 minutes twice a week, in addition to receiving standard care. The other half received only standard care.

The researchers assessed participants' sleep quality before and after the four-week study period on a questionnaire and using actigraphy, a sensor that detects movement and is worn like a wristwatch at night. People in both groups improved on measures of overall sleep quality and several other sleep-related variables. Relative to the control group, however, those who did yoga saw greater improvements in sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and the amount of time actually spent sleeping while in bed.

On a scale of general sleep quality - measured from 0 to 21, where lower scores indicate fewer problems - yoga participants improved from a 9.2 to a 7.2 during the study. Those in the comparison group improved from a 9.0 to a 7.9, on average, according to results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. What's more, yoga participants reduced their use of sleep medication by 21 percent per week, on average, and those not assigned to yoga increased use of sleep aids by five percent per week. The data from other studies is quite clear that yoga improves quality of life for breast cancer patients, and this study confirms that. We still don't know how it works in men with colon or prostate cancer, for example, because those patients are never really involved in these trials."


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