Gentle Yoga May Ease Sleep, Fatigue Problems

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A study suggests that gentle yoga may ease sleep and fatigue problems and improve sleep quality in cancer survivors. The research results will be presented at the 2010 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in June.

Cancer treatment and the associated stress and worry may cause sleep problems, which can then lead to feeling tired and fatigued during the day. Sleep problems and other treatment side effects can decrease quality of life for cancer survivors.

In this study, 410 people who had been treated for early-stage cancer were having sleep problems 2 months to 2 years after treatment ended.

  • 96% of the survivors in the study were women
  • 75% of these women had been treated for early-stage breast cancer

The participants were split into two groups.

Half of the survivors took part in a four-week yoga program called UR Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS). YOCAS is designed specifically for cancer survivors and involves gentle yoga postures, as well as breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization. The 75-minute yoga classes were done twice per week for 4 weeks.

The other half of the survivors were monitored for 4 weeks, but didn't participate in the yoga program. The researchers evaluated the participants' sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and overall quality of life at the beginning of the study and 4 weeks later, after the yoga program ended.

At the start of the study, most of the survivors in each group had poor sleep quality. After 4 weeks, there were noticeable differences between the survivors who did yoga and the survivors who were only monitored:

  • 31% of the survivors who did yoga had better sleep quality compared to 16% of the survivors who didn't do yoga
  • 20% of the survivors who did yoga and who were using sleeping pills at the start of the study stopped using sleeping pills by the end of the study; sleeping pill use went up by 5% among survivors who didn't do yoga
  • 29% of the survivors who did yoga had less daytime sleepiness after 4 weeks compared to 5% of the survivors who didn't do yoga
  • Quality of life improved by about 6% among the survivors that did yoga compared to no change in quality of life for survivors who didn't do yoga

An expert who reviewed the study said that because it was short -- only 4 weeks -- it wasn't really possible to conclude that yoga was the only reason the cancer survivors had fewer sleep problems. Still, the results are promising and other studies have shown that several complementary and holistic medicine techniques, including yoga, can help improve quality of life during and after breast cancer treatment.

In the breastcancer.org Complementary and Holistic Medicine section, you can learn more about:

  • what to expect from different techniques
  • how to find a qualified practitioner
  • important things to consider before trying a technique

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