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Natural Treatments for Cancer-Related Sleep Problems

As many as 45% of people with cancer experience sleep problems, according to the National Cancer Institute. Often resulting from pain, stress, hospitalization, and/or medication use, persistent sleep problems may worsen anxiety, increase depression risk, and negatively affect physical health. While there’s no surefire way to stop sleep disturbance, some studies suggest that certain natural therapies may help improve sleep and ease insomnia.

Natural Treatments for Cancer-Related Sleep Problems

Here’s a look at several natural treatments shown to alleviate sleep disturbance among people coping with cancer:

1) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction holds promise as a means of improving sleep quality in breast cancer patients with stress-related sleep complaints, according to a study published in 2003. A healing approach that combines yoga and mindfulness meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction involves an eight-week training program designed to help participants lessen their emotional reactivity and gain a greater sense of calm.

2) Massage Therapy

Massage may help enhance sleep quality among people undergoing treatment for breast cancer, a 2009 study suggests. After receiving one 30-minute massage treatment once a week for three consecutive weeks, study participants showed significant improvements in a number of side effects resulting from chemotherapy and radiation (including anxiety, pain, and nausea, in addition to sleep disturbance).

Learn more about massage therapy and cancer.

3) Yoga

In a 2004 study of 39 people with lymphoma, researchers found that a regular yoga practice significantly decreased sleep disturbance. Compared to study members assigned to a wait list, those who participated in seven weekly yoga sessions experienced greater improvement in sleep quality and sleep duration. Members of the yoga group also reported a reduction in their use of sleep medications.

Learn more about yoga and cancer.

4) Hypnosis

Hypnosis may promote sounder sleep among women with a history of breast cancer, according to a 2008 study. The study involved 60 breast cancer survivors with hot flashes, a condition linked to sleep disturbance, anxiety, and decreased quality of life. Among those who underwent five weeks of hypnosis sessions, researchers observed improvements in sleep and a reduction in hot flashes.

Learn more about hypnosis and cancer.

Should You Use Natural Treatments for Cancer-Related Sleep Problems?

If you’re experiencing sleep disturbance while dealing with cancer, talk to your doctor about the sleep-promoting treatments best suited to your health needs. While alternative therapies such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, massage therapy, yoga, and hypnosis are generally considered safe, it’s important to consult your physician about any therapies or practices you’d like to incorporate into your cancer care.


Cohen L, Warneke C, Fouladi RT, Rodriguez MA, Chaoul-Reich A. “Psychological adjustment and sleep quality in a randomized trial of the effects of a Tibetan yoga intervention in patients with lymphoma.” Cancer. 2004 15;100(10):2253-60.

Elkins G, Marcus J, Stearns V, Perfect M, Rajab MH, Ruud C, Palamara L, Keith T. “Randomized trial of a hypnosis intervention for treatment of hot flashes among breast cancer survivors.” J Clin Oncol. 2008 1;26(31):5022-6.

National Cancer Institute. “Sleep Disorders“. April 2010.

Shapiro SL, Bootzin RR, Figueredo AJ, Lopez AM, Schwartz GE. “The efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction in the treatment of sleep disturbance in women with breast cancer: an exploratory study.” J Psychosom Res. 2003 54(1):85-91.

Sturgeon M, Wetta-Hall R, Hart T, Good M, Dakhil S. “Effects of therapeutic massage on the quality of life among patients with breast cancer during treatment.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2009 15(4):373-80.


August 16, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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