Ever have one of those nights where you just can’t sleep?
It’s been happening to me a lot lately.
Some nights I have trouble falling asleep.
Other nights I wake up in the middle of the night – WIDE AWAKE – and can’t go back to sleep.
My well-meaning husband innocently blamed it on hormones.
Bless his heart.
Whatever the cause, insomnia can be frustrating!
As it turns out, I’m not alone. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, 30%
of the general population regularly experiences some form of sleep disruption.
For those with cancer, approximately 25% are diagnosed with chronic insomnia,
presenting as restlessness, trouble falling asleep and increased sleep-wake hours
throughout the night.
Sleep disturbances can take a toll on your quality of life. It can darken your mood, cause
daytime fatigue, weaken your immune function, and increase your risk of depression.
Let’s face it, there is a reason why sleep deprivation is considered a cruel and unusual
form of punishment!
But there is hope!!
If you’ve been following us for long enough, you probably already know what I’m going
But it is true!
Earlier last year, we published a study we conducted looking at the role of exercise in
attenuating sleep disturbance in a cancer population.
For this study, we recruited 253 patients who were undergoing chemotherapy. First, we
asked them to complete the Sleep Condition Indicator questionnaire. This survey was
used to gauge the severity of sleep disturbance and deprivation related to
Next, these patients participated in a 12- week individualized exercise program at Maple
Tree. At the end of the 12-weeks, participants completed the sleep questionnaire again.
These values were compared to the initial scores using an ANCOVA, with the baseline
pre-chemotherapy measure as a covariate (a.k.a. some fancy statistics).
Overall, we found that patients who participated in our prescribed, individualized
exercised program saw significant improvement to their sleep.
Specifically, patients experienced:
– a 75.15% decrease in the length of time it took them to fall asleep each night,
– a 90% decrease in the amount of time they were awake during the night,
– a 50.68% decrease in the number of nights each week they struggle with sleep,
– a 61.61% improvement to their overall sleep quality,
– a 75% improvement in concentration and productivity, and
– a 57.44% improvement in mood, energy, and relationships.
We don’t exactly understand why exercise improves sleep. There is some evidence that
moderate intensity aerobic exercise increases slow wave sleep – which is the very deep
sleep that gives your body and brain a chance to rejuvenate.
In addition, exercising naturally raises your body temperature a few degrees. Later in
the day, as your body adjusts back to its normal temperature, this can trigger some
feelings of drowsiness that will help you fall asleep.
On the other hand, poor sleep is actually related to lower levels of physical activity! This
only serves to further the notion that sleep and exercise have a robust, bidirectional
If you are struggling with sleep-related problems, try some of these tips:
– Set a regular bedtime
– Implement a relaxing bedtime routine.
– Turn off devices that give off light, such as the TV or your phone, at least 15
minutes before bedtime.
– Be sure to sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room.
– Avoid long naps during the day. If you need a nap, restrict it to 20 minutes in
the early afternoon.
– And of course – be sure you are getting the recommended amount of
The research study cited in this article is from this work:
Wonders, KY., Oostveen, A., Wise, R. (2020). The Role of Prescribed, Individualized
Exercise in Attenuating Sleep Disturbance and Deprivation During Cancer
Treatment. Sleep Medicine and Disorders: International Journal, 4(1): 1-4.