Cancer survivors who participated in a special yoga program reported better sleep quality and less reliance on sleep medication, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Sleep problems and fatigue are among the most common problems experienced by cancer survivors, and can have a profound impact on quality of life. Sleep problems are very common during cancer treatment, but can persist even after treatment ends. In fact, 30 to 90 percent of cancer survivors report impaired sleep quality after treatment.

Yoga is a mind-body practice and form of exercise that may improve sleep among cancer survivors. In order to evaluate the impact of yoga on sleep, researchers conducted a randomized trial that included 410 cancer survivors with moderate to severe sleep disturbances that occurred two to 24 months after treatment. Participants were randomly assigned to standard care or standard care plus a 4-week yoga intervention called YOCAS® (Yoga for Cancer Survivors). The twice-weekly program included breathing exercises, 16 gentle yoga postures, and meditation. Participants attended two 75-minute sessions per week for four weeks.

Both groups showed improvement in overall sleep quality; however, the participants in the yoga group experienced greater improvement in sleep quality as well as sleep duration, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances, subjective sleep quality, and daytime dysfunction. They reported greater sleep quality, less use of drugs for sleep, less fatigue, and better quality of life. In fact, participants in the yoga group decreased their use of sleep medication by 21 percent, whereas those in the control group increased their use by 5 percent.

The researchers concluded that yoga—and specifically the YOCAS program—could be a useful treatment for improving sleep quality and reducing the use of sleep medication among cancer survivors.


Mustian KM, Sprod LK, Janelsins M, et al. Multicenter, randomized controlled trial of yoga for sleep quality among cancer survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Published early online August 12, 2013. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.43.7707

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