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Can adequate sleep improve breast cancer survival?

Published on | Kylie Chin

Woman sleeping in bedA new study reveals that adequate sleep may improve survival time for women with advanced stages of breast cancer. According to the study, survival time for patients that received adequate sleep was 68.9 months (5.74 years), while inadequate sleepers survived an average of 33.2 months (2.76 years). Researchers also found that just a 10 percent improvement in sleep efficiency reduced breast cancer mortality by 32 percent.

Researchers are still uncertain how efficient sleep and breast cancer survival time may be linked, but they suspect that a weakening immune system and hormonal stress responses caused by lack of sleep may attribute to shorter survival time. Additional research is needed to fully understand the exact cause of these findings.

“Good sleep seems to have a strong protective effect, even with advanced breast cancer, ” says Oxana, Palesh, PhD, assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. “There are effective treatments for sleep disruption in the general population, and some of them have shown to be effective in cancer survivors as well.”

Relaxation Methods to Help You Sleep

If you struggle with falling asleep, there are a few relaxation exercises you can try to ease your mind and help you rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one thing you can do is focus all of your attention on breathing. For instance, imagine the air entering your body as you inhale, and then release all the tension from your body as you exhale. Remain focused on breathing and avoid thinking about your worries or concerns. A person may repeat this process several times before falling asleep.

“Guided imagery” is another relaxation technique you can try if you struggle with sleeping. The goal here is to visualize a scene or “image” in your head—this can be anything that is soothing or calming (e.g. a sandy beach in the Bahamas). Because this is unique for each person, you may have to experiment until you find a special place or activity that quiets your mind. Like breathing, guided imagery can also help focus your attention away from worries and help you relax for better sleep.

If you’re still not getting adequate sleep with these calming techniques, here are some other things you can try:

  • Exercise daily (this not only tires the body but also promotes good health)
  • Limit excessive power naps (especially before bed)
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and eating big meals before bed

Am I getting quality, healthy sleep?

Most people need between seven to nine hours of quality rest, or “healthy sleep” each night to feel rested. But how do you know if you’re getting healthy sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation reports that you may be getting healthy sleep if you:

  • Fall asleep quickly (within 15-20 minutes)
  • Regularly sleep for seven to nine hours
  • Sleep continuously without interruption
  • Feel refreshed and or alert when you wake up
  • Have no history of breathing cessations, loud snoring, or restlessness

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