Yoga Combats Insomnia and Fatigue in Cancer Survivors

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A program using low-intensity yoga and breathing exercises has been shown to be beneficial in combating insomnia and fatigue in cancer survivors.

In a study of 410 cancer survivors in nine different community sites around the country who had completed treatment in the previous two years and had been experiencing sleep problems for at least two months, half were assigned to attend a 75 minute yoga session twice a week for a month. Most of the patients were women breast cancer survivors.

The program, called UR Yoga for Cancer Survivors or YOCAS, is based on two types of gentle, low-intensity yoga – Hatha yoga and Restorative Yoga. Eighteen postures were performed in standing, seated, and lying-down positions. Breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization were also used.

At the end of the study, the participants in the yoga session were using about 20% less sleep medication, while people in the control group saw an increase of sleep drug intake of about 5%. The yoga participants also had a significant improvement in sleep quality (22%) and lower levels of fatigue (42%).

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"We really wanted to find something useful, because right now there are not a lot of good treatments out there for fatigue," says the lead author of the study, Karen Mustian, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, New York.

Sleep disturbances and fatigue are a common and burdensome problem among cancer survivors. As many as 30-50% of patients have trouble sleeping, and 70-96% complain of fatigue. Yoga likely works by helping patients cope with anxiety, nausea and pain. The group support is also beneficial, according to the study authors.

Finding a class shouldn’t be difficult. Many of the nation’s top cancer centers, including Stanford Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center (University of Texas), and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center already offer yoga programs to patients. In the community, look for a certified instructor who has experience working with patients with health problems.

The new research will be presented this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in June.

Source reference:
Mustian KM, et al "YOCAS® yoga significantly improves sleep, fatigue and quality of life: A URCC CCOP randomized, controlled clinical trial among 410 cancer survivors" ASCO2010; Abstract 9013.

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