How quality sleep can help cancer patients and survivors

Everyone affected by cancer understands the impact it can have on all aspects of life. For cancer patients and survivors, treatment and recovery can be exhausting and painful, while obtaining the deep rest that is essential for recovery is often difficult.

“We know that many cancer patients and survivors report sleep disturbances and poor sleep quality as a result of their diagnosis or treatment,” said Dr. Alpa Patel, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of population sciences at the American Cancer Society, says Thrive.

There is growing scientific evidence that quality sleep can help improve health and well-being. But the sleep-cancer link has been a neglected area of ​​research, with more attention paid to nutrition and exercise, Dr. Patel says. Although poor sleep quality may be associated with the risk of developing certain types of cancer, evidence to date is limited. There is also limited evidence on how sleep can help patients during treatment and during recovery.

That’s about to change. The American Cancer Society and Sleep Number have launched a six-year partnership to explore the critical link between quality sleep and cancer outcomes.

“We need to know what causes sleep disturbances for different types of cancer,” says Dr. Patel, who oversees researchers and scientists in her role at the American Cancer Society. “By identifying the impact of quality sleep on cancer prevention and cure, we want to identify the best interventions and strategies to potentially improve the quality of life of cancer survivors,” she says. This is essential research, notes Dr. Patel, because there are currently no guidelines on sleep for cancer prevention or for cancer survivors.

Shelly Ibach, President and CEO of Sleep Number, is delighted with this historic partnership, which she says will “directly support our company’s purpose – to improve the health and well-being of society through better sleep. better quality”. The impact, she adds, will be “far reaching, benefiting cancer patients and survivors, and society as a whole”.

Drawing on more than 15 billion hours of highly accurate sleep data generated by Sleep Number 360® smart beds, scientists will study the effects of cancer on the sleep patterns of patients and survivors, analyzing information such as as individuals’ sleep duration and efficiency and key biometric data, including average heart rate and average respiratory rate. They will review information from historic and ongoing cancer prevention studies and explore whether sleep deprivation could be a risk factor for cancer.

“What excites me is that the technology and data generated by Sleep Number smart beds will help fuel and accelerate our science and research,” says Dr Patel.

For Dr. Patel and Ibach, the research has a personal resonance. “Cancer doesn’t just come in, it devastates your life. You live life and then everything changes,” says Ibach, who lost her husband, George, in October 2017 after an 18-month battle with cancer. “My husband was so full of life and brought joy to everyone around him and all of a sudden, boom, he’s diagnosed with leukemia. Next thing, we’re living in hospital for nine months , everything looks good, and then with a moment’s notice, he has hours to live.

Ibach emphasizes the importance of quality sleep for caregivers and those bereaved by the loss of loved ones. “I made sure to take time to sleep whenever I could because obviously your sleep is disrupted when you’re grieving – but sleep is a healer and it has helped me heal mentally, spiritually and physically. “

Cancer is a subject that is also deeply personal for Dr. Patel, who began volunteering with the American Cancer Society as a teenager after his grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 64 years old. “He was riding his bike when his hand went numb,” she said. . “It turned out he had a brain tumour, a glioblastoma the size of a lemon. He went from training for a triathlon to not being able to speak or eat in six months, then he died. Dr. Patel says the experience of losing her beloved grandfather sparked her determination to do whatever she personally could to find a cure for cancer. This led directly to her current career and his goal of supporting cancer patients in terms of prevention, treatment and recovery.

Its goal going forward is to establish clear public health guidelines for sleep and sleep “prescriptions”. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if when a cancer patient or survivor says, ‘I’m having trouble sleeping,’ we can say, ‘Here are precision tools tailored to you, based on your own cancer and your treatment history — here’s what will work best for you?”

These kinds of tailored health guidelines, she points out, are already available for cancer patients when it comes to nutrition and exercise. “If a breast cancer survivor says, ‘I have chronic fatigue,’ we can actually prescribe the right amount of cardio to lessen the side effects of the symptoms. Wouldn’t it be great to have sleep prescriptions as well? »

Dr. Patel’s ultimate goal is to generate enough evidence to spark a movement in the cancer research community around the study of sleep in relation to cancer.

It’s a goal worth pursuing, concludes Ibach. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate — it affects everyone. Our hope is that sleep guidelines will help eradicate this devastating disease and improve millions of lives. I am convinced that we will achieve this. And we are honored to join the American Cancer Society in the fight for a cancer-free world.


Thrive Global and Sleep Number believe that quality sleep has a profound impact on health and well-being. Today, this is more important than ever as we seek quality sleep to help boost immunity, increase energy and improve recovery. Visit sleepnumber.com to find the best sleep solution for you, so you can wake up to your greatest purpose.

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