PINEHURST — Yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality and fatigue in cancer patients and survivors, a clinical trial conducted through the University of Rochester found.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas participated in the original study to help patients with insomnia and cancer-related fatigue through Yoga for Cancer Survivors. Cinnamon LeBlanc, an exercise specialist and certified YOCAS instructor, led the yoga portion of the study at FirstHealth as part of the greater University of Rochester trial.
LeBlanc held two 75-minute YOCAS session twice a week for four weeks. Participants were led through a specific yoga program designed for the trial. Each yoga posture in the program had a corresponding adaptive pose for individuals with a more limited range of motion.
“Being in some of those poses was difficult for them,” LeBlanc said. “Child’s pose, for example. If you have knee issues or back problems, traditional child’s pose is pretty hard, because you have to be on your knees in a little ball. They gave us ways to adapt poses and use bolsters. Everyone also brought blankets to use because we did restorative poses, which require bolsters, chairs and props.”
Participants were cancer survivors between two and 60 months out from treatment with insomnia and no yoga participation in the previous three months. Survivors were randomized into three groups: YOCAS yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy and survivorship health education. At the end of the study, the groups were compared to see which intervention proved most effective.
Of the 740 participants, 251 were in the YOCAS behavioral intervention group, 238 were in the CBT cognitive intervention group and 251 were in the SHE educational intervention group. At the end of the study, yoga participants were found to have significant improvement in insomnia. The YOCAS group had an insomnia score change of -3.61 compared to SHE at -2.19. While CBT proved effective in treating insomnia, more participants withdrew from the CBT group due to disliking the therapy in comparison to yoga.
Overall results showed YOCAS yoga to improve sleep and quality of life for participants. A more recent study by the University of Rochester also found cancer survivors who do YOCAS have lower levels of inflammation, which can help prevent cancer from returning.
Almost forty percent of cancer survivors experience sleep issues up to five years after diagnosis, American Cancer Society researchers found in a separate study. Poor sleep or insomnia in cancer survivors was often linked to physical, emotional or financial destress related to cancer.
LeBlanc has continued to lead yoga classes for cancer patients and survivors at the FirstHealth Cancer Center, the home of the Cancer Wellness Program. She said many participants attend the monthly class for years and see health benefits beyond improved sleep.
“I think the class offers a lot for stress reduction and relaxation. Some of the people have been doing this for a long time and I think the relaxation and community is beneficial,” she said. “You have a group of people who’ve been through the same experience and can offer support without necessarily talking about it.”
The cancer center houses healing gardens, space for support group meetings, as well as a gym with a yoga studio and massage room. Cancer patients can enroll in an eight-week Cancer Wellness Exercise is Medicine Program for full access to the gym space and an exercise program led by LeBlanc and Exercise is Medicine Program Manager Tim Smith.
Yoga for cancer patients and caregivers is held monthly at the FirstHealth Cancer Center and is free to the community, though registration is required. The Cancer Wellness Exercise is Medicine program includes multiple yoga classes, including chair-assisted yoga and traditional.
“Yoga checks all the boxes in terms of benefits,” LeBlanc said. “It’s not just physical, it’s also mental and spiritual. Supporting health in each of those areas is important for those fighting, or recovering, from any illness.”
To learn more, visit firsthealth.org/cancer or call 910-715-3636.