Doctors find six-week exercise programme improves sleep for cancer patients

Doctors at Southampton's teaching hospitals have found a six-week exercise programme can help improve bowel cancer patients' strength by giving them a better night's sleep.

Sleep problems are a common side effect of many cancer treatments and tough chemotherapy cycles can leave patients suffering from extreme fatigue.

In an innovative study, Dr Sandy Jack and the critical care team at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre looked at sleep quality in 33 rectal cancer patients, comparing those who undertook the exercise programme against those who received standard care.

The training regime was based on Southampton's innovative 'prehabilitation' programme, which involves prioritising exercise to help boost cancer patients' recovery after chemotherapy but before surgery.

In a study published in 2014, Dr Jack's team found tailored exercise programmes for bowel cancer patients after chemotherapy and radiotherapy returned them to pre-treatment fitness levels within six weeks.

They followed patients for a year after their operations and found a reduction in length of hospital stay, readmission rates and cardiorespiratory complications.

In this latest study, published in the journal Perioperative Medicine, participants wore a SenseWear Armband Pro device to monitor their sleep and activity from just before they started their chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments until six weeks later when the exercise programme finished.

Sleep efficiency, duration and lying down time were better in those who had undergone the prehabilitation programme.

"Chemotherapy can be extremely tough physically, leaving patients feeling tired and worn out which affects the quality of their sleep - creating a vicious cycle of exhaustion," explained Dr Jack, a consultant clinician scientist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and associate professor at the University of Southampton.

"This study suggests exercise could hold the key to giving these patients the rest they need to get their strength back and better prepare them for surgery."

The study formed part of the Fit-4-Surgery project led by Professor Mike Grocott, lead for critical care within the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, which involves trialling a range of specific exercise programmes to improve outcomes.

Posted on Tuesday 11 July 2017