Photo of a woman doing yoga
Increasing evidence shows that yoga can help cancer patients have a better quality of life

Yoga helps cancer patients get a good night’s sleep

11 November, 2013

Natural Health News — Practicing yoga might not seem like an obvious strategy when you have cancer, but according to a new study it may help aid sleep and reduce patient’s use of medication to aid sleep.

Between 30-90% 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.

Evidence suggests that yoga can lower blood pressure and improve anxiety, depression and insomnia. Hatha yoga, which focuses on physical postures, and what is known as ‘restorative yoga’, with an emphasis on relaxation, breathing and meditation may be particularly useful in this regard. Indeed researchers in New York discovered that cancer patients – in this study mostly women with a history of breast cancer – attending yoga sessions twice a week, reported significant and measurable improvements in sleep quality and sleep duration.

The study included 410 people with a history of cancer who were recruited from 12 cities across the US. Participants were randomly divided into two groups, both of which received standard care, but one of which, in addition, attended a yoga programme for cancer survivors that met for 75 minutes twice a week.

The researchers assessed participants’ sleep quality before and after the four-week study period using a standardised questionnaire and actigraphy, a sensor that detects movement and is worn like a wristwatch at night.

Overall sleep quality and several other sleep-related variables improved in both groups. However, when compared to those just receiving standard care, 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 OncologyIn addition, the researchers report that yoga participants reduced their use of sleep medication by 21% per week, on average, and those not assigned to yoga increased use of sleep aids by 5% per week.

The study’s lead author, Karen Mustian, from the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York described the findings as “the kind of study that doctors typically look to when changing the standard of care with patients.”

“One of the biggest messages from the trial” she said “is yoga worked. 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”.