Mindfulness, CBT Could Ease Sleep Woes For Cancer Patients

young woman practicing yoga on...
young woman practicing yoga on...

Sleep troubles -- including insomnia and disturbed sleep -- are a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, affecting as many as 59 percent of patients. But a new study shows that cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction are effective at decreasing symptoms of insomnia in these people.

The strategies also seemed to improve mood and stress levels in the patients, reported researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

"That MBSR [mindfulness-based stress reduction] can produce similar improvements to CBT-I [cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia] and that both groups can effectively reduce stress and mood disturbance expands the available treatment options for insomnia in cancer patients," study researcher Sheila Garland, Ph.D., who is a clinical psychology post-doctoral fellow at the university's Abramson Cancer Center in Integrative Oncology and Behavioral Sleep Medicine, said in a statement.

"This study suggests that we should not apply a 'one size fits all model' to the treatment of insomnia and emphasizes the need to individualize treatment based on patient characteristics and preferences," she added.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, included 111 cancer patients in Canada. Forty-seven of them were assigned to undergo eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,and 64 were assigned to undergo eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Three months after the eight-week treatments, researchers followed up with the patients to see if their sleep had improved at all. They found that both groups experienced increases in the amount of time they spent asleep at night, as well as decreases in the time it took to fall asleep at the beginning of the night or return to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.

Both treatment types decrease insomnia severity, though researchers noted that the mindfulness group experienced more gradual improvements, compared with the CBT group, which experienced more rapid improvements.

Therefore, researchers noted CBT "remains the best choice for the nonpharmacologic treatment of insomnia," they wrote in the study.

Indeed, CBT is already considered an approved method to treat insomnia, notes the National Sleep Foundation, which describes the therapy as "changing sleep habits and scheduling factors, as well as misconceptions about sleep and insomnia, that perpetuate sleep difficulties." For more on CBT, click over to the National Sleep Foundation's overview.

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