Better Sleep for Better Survival

Women with breast cancer had better survival rates with better sleep

(RxWiki News) Sufficient sleep is essential to all aspects of a person's health. And for people not in good health, such as those living with cancer, good sleep might mean living a little longer.

A recent study found that women with advanced breast cancer had better survival rates if they had better sleep.

Those who got more sleep while in bed and who woke up less were more likely to live longer than those with more sleep disruption.

It's not clear whether treating sleep problems in women with breast cancer might help long-term outcomes.

"Get sufficient sleep every night."

This study, led by Oxana Palesh, PhD, MPH, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, looked at the possible influence of sufficient sleep on the survival of women with breast cancer.

The researchers tracked the sleep of 97 women, average age 54, diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.

The women kept sleep diaries for three days, during which they also wore actigraphs, devices that measure approximately how much sleep someone gets based on their movements.

Then, the researchers followed up with the women about six years later to compare the women's survival rates.

They found that women who had gotten more sleep while in bed survived a little longer, even after taking into account other factors that could influence survival rates.

Those factors included the women's age, estrogen receptor status, cancer treatment, metastatic spread of the cancer, cortisol levels and depression symptoms.

The increase in survival was not big — it was about a 4 to 6 percent reduction in mortality — but other factors related to the women's sleep also appeared linked to their survival rates by larger amounts.

For example, women who woke up less after having gone to sleep were about half as likely to have died during follow-up.

Those who were awake for shorter time periods were also considerably less likely to have died during the follow-up period.

The researchers concluded that better "sleep efficiency" — the amount of time while in bed that a person is asleep — and less sleep disruption were significant factors that might affect survival of women with advanced breast cancer.

"Further research is needed to determine whether treating sleep disruption with cognitive behavioral and/or pharmacologic therapy could improve survival in women with advanced breast cancer," they wrote.

Given what we know about sleep, however, these findings are not surprising, according to William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

"We have taken the need for sleep for granted for way too long," he said. "The more we look at its importance, the more we find how significant sleep is."

He said in addition to this news about the way sleep can help those with cancer, healthy sleep may also play a role in preventing some cancers.

"There are now studies showing that certain types of cancer are increased and associated with sleep apnea," Dr. Kohler said. "Cancers not only can improve if you get better sleep, but if you have conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancers are associated with it."

This study was published in the May issue of the journal Sleep. The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 10, 2014