Cancer patients' sleep improved by exercise

Sleep problems are a common side effect of many cancer treatments. Now our critical care research team has shown that a six week exercise programme helps rectal cancer patients get a better night's sleep.

Cancer chemotherapy can be extremely tough physically, leaving patients feeling tired and worn out, often affecting the quality of their sleep.

Promising new results from a recent trial, published in the journal Perioperative Medicine, suggest that exercise could hold the key to giving these patients the rest they need to get their strength back. 

'Prehab' exercise programme

Dr Sandy Jack from our NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit is investigating the impact of exercise on surgical care and recovery, and in this latest study her team looked at whether a six week exercise programme before surgery can boost cancer patients' recovery.

It is well established that patients who are fit and active prior to surgery have better survival outcomes, and Dr Jack and team are focussed on 'prehabilitation' therapy - optimising exercise to better prepare patients for chemotherapy and surgery.

Their work has shown improvements in physical fitness going into, and immediately after surgery, and has underpinned a pilot clinical service that has reduced hospital stay length.

Improving sleep

This particular study looked at sleep quality in 33 rectal cancer patients, comparing those who undertook the six week prehab exercise programme against those who received standard care. 

Participants wore the 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 the prehab programme, suggesting that exercise could help cancer patients sleep better.          

Posted on Wednesday 15 March 2017