Study shows insomnia, sleep problems are common among cancer patients

Up to 10% of adults in developed countries suffer from chronic insomnia, and most prone to the disorder are cancer patients. A study suggests that 50% of all cancer patients have symptoms of insomnia, with many among them have sleep problems that linger for at least a year. Though sleep disorders have been tied to bad outcomes for cancer patients, current research cannot point circumstances brought by sleep disorders may occur when treating people for tumors.

Study breakdown

The study in discussion examined data from just over 400 patients in Germany with an average age of 59; researchers completed two assessments on how severe insomnia was for each patient – one upon joining, and one a year afterwards. The most common malignancies were breast cancer, tumors of the prostate or testicles, and colorectal cancer, with about 83% of patients were being treated for the first time.

When the study began, 49% percent of participants had insomnia symptoms, while 13% had severe enough sleep problems to meet the clinical definition of insomnia. After 12 months, 64% of the patients who started out with insomnia still had the symptoms.  “This matters for patients because they may assume that their insomnia will disappear over time, as their cancer treatment concludes or their mood improves,” said Eric Zhou from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston who wasn’t involved in the study, “Unfortunately, this is often not the case.”

By the end of the year-long study, 53% of women and 39% of men displayed symptoms of insomnia. Among both genders, the study noted, levels of distress, depression and anxiety increased over the twelve months. What seemed to affect whether women had insomnia when the study ended was whether they it when it began. In the meantime for men, having depression or using psychiatric medications during the study’s start was associated with a greater risk of insomnia.

Going forward

The study wasn’t designed to prove if or how cancer might cause insomnia, or if sleep problems might affect any outcomes for people with cancer. Another limitation that the study noted was if the participants accurately recalled and reported any symptoms they may or may not have had.

“Still, the results offer fresh evidence that cancer-related insomnia won’t go away on its own”, said Sheila Garland of Memorial University in Canada, also not involved in the study, “Insomnia may be more prevalent in cancer for a few reasons.”

“First, the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis and the impact of treatments are enough on their own to lead to problems sleeping,” Garland said. “But other behaviors may either make sleep worse or make it more likely that a short-term or temporary sleep problem becomes a chronic and long-standing disorder known as insomnia.” Garland also said that cancer patients who worry that insomnia may compromise their cancer outcomes may only just develop even worse and more frequent insomnia, “The best advice is to seek help early instead of trying to fix it on your own.”

Story from Reuters

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