Cancer Survivors Have Better Sleep Quality If They Do Yoga

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A study suggests that gentle yoga may improve sleep quality in cancer survivors and reduce their need for medicines to help them sleep.

The study was published online on Aug. 12, 2013 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Read the abstract of “Multicenter, Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga for Sleep Quality Among Cancer Survivors.”

Cancer treatment and the associated stress and worry may cause sleep problems, which can then lead to feeling tired during the day. It’s estimated that between 30% and 90% of cancer survivors have problems sleeping.

In this study, 410 people who had been treated for cancer were having sleep problems between 2 months and 2 years after surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy:

  • 96% of people in the study were women
  • 75% of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer

All the people in the study got standard follow-up care, but half of the people were randomly assigned to attend a 4-week yoga program called Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS). YOCAS is designed specifically for cancer survivors and involves gentle yoga postures, as well as breathing exercises and meditation. The 75-minute yoga classes were done twice per week for 4 weeks.

The other half of the survivors didn’t participate in the yoga classes but still received standard follow-up care.

The researchers evaluated the people’s 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 had poor sleep quality. After 4 weeks, compared to survivors who got only standard care, survivors who did yoga:

  • had better sleep quality
  • had less daytime sleepiness
  • had better quality of life
  • reduced their use of medicines to help them sleep; survivors who didn’t do yoga increased their use of sleep medicines

About 90% of the people who were in the yoga program said it helped improve their sleep and 63% said they would recommend it to other cancer survivors.

Because the study was so short — only 4 weeks — it’s not possible to conclude that yoga was the only reason the cancer survivors had fewer sleep problems. Plus, all the people in the study volunteered to be in it, so they may have been more open to the idea that yoga could help them sleep. 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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