Yoga Great for Great Sleep

Cancer survivors sleep quality improved after yoga intervention

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) What’s more delicious than restful sleep? And what’s more frustrating than not being able to fall asleep or waking up at 2 am? Cancer survivors are no strangers to troubled sleep. But now they may have a gentle way to get a great night's rest.

A new study found that yoga may improve cancer survivors' quality of sleep.

Not only does yoga hold promise for enhancing sleep, but it’s a mind-body form of exercise well known for offering both physical and mental health benefits.

"Give yoga a try."

Karen M. Mustian, PhD, MPH, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, tested the theory that yoga may improve the overall quality of sleep among individuals who have been treated for cancer.

A large number of cancer survivors — anywhere from 30 to 90 percent — report sleep problems following surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.

Impaired sleep can include difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up too early or excessive daytime napping.

Treatment options range from prescription sedative medications, over-the-counter sleep aids, cognitive behavior therapy (which looks at how thoughts influence behavior) and lifestyle interventions such as exercise.

For this study, 410 cancer survivors suffering from moderate to severe sleep problems were assigned to either standard care or standard care plus a four-week yoga program. 

Standard care involved usual follow-up care as provided by the individual’s treating oncologist.

All participants were two to 24 months beyond their cancer therapy.

Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS) was used for the intervention group. This method includes breathing exercises called pranayama, 16 gentle yoga postures called asanas and meditation.

Participants in the yoga group attended two 75-minute sessions a week.

The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index was used to assess sleep quality before and after the intervention.

The researchers found that the individuals in the yoga group had significantly greater improvements in overall sleep quality than did those in the standard care group.

Compared with their sleep quality before the study, the yoga group fell asleep faster by about two minutes, slept longer, fell back to sleep faster (two minutes) after waking up during the night and had fewer sleep-related problems the following day. 

The researchers found that those in the control (standard care) group also demonstrated improvements in overall sleep quality after the study, but not in the amount of time it took to fall asleep, total sleep hours, daytime problems or sleep medication use.

Those in the yoga group reduced their sleep medication use by 21 percent per week, while those in the control group increased medication use by 5 percent per week.

Alexandra Reimann, ND, a naturopathic physician at Valhalla Wellness and Medical Center in Las Vegas, told dailyRx News, “My clinical experience is that practicing yoga not only improves quality of sleep in patients who have survived cancer, but also markedly improves stress and anxiety levels. Yoga also improves oxygenation of tissues which results in increased energy."

The study authors wrote, “Ninety percent of cancer survivors found yoga useful for improving their sleep quality, and 100 percent would recommend yoga to other cancer survivors experiencing sleep problems with 63 percent highly recommending it, further supporting clinically meaningful improvements.”

This study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

No funding or conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 16, 2013
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015