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Women worrying about cancer are more likely to experience sleep disturbances

WESTCHESTER, Ill. A significant number of women worrying about cancer may be experiencing sleep disturbances, even without a breast cancer diagnosis, according to a research abstract that will be presented by Amita Dharawat, MD, on Monday at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).

This collaborative study, from the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, focused on 1,038 community-based residents, between 50 and 70 years of age; none of whom had a history of a physician-diagnosed cancer. Sleep complaint was defined as a report of either difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, or early morning awakening.

According to the results, 65 percent of the women reported that they worried about developing breast cancer, and 49 percent reported a sleep complaint. Twenty-seven percent indicated that cancer worry affected their mood, while 25 percent indicated that it affected their daily activity. The odds of reporting sleep complaints for women who worry about cancer were nearly 50 percent greater than odds for women who reported no cancer worry, independent of several confounders.

This is a unique and important finding because sleep-related complaints have never been studied in women who worry about cancer, without a diagnosis, and it provides practitioners with knowledge with regards to identifying and targeting women who report sleep-related complaints with cognitive behavioral therapy, said Dr. Dharawat, who is a second year medical resident, working with Dr. Girardin Jean-Louis on an NIH funded Womens Health Project.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps eliminate negative images and thoughts that compromise ones ability to sleep well. It helps develop habits that promote a healthy pattern of sleep. CBT is most often used for people who suffer from insomnia.

Sleep plays a vital role in promoting womens health and well being. Getting the required amount of sleep is likely to enhance womens overall quality of life. Yet, they face many potential barriers such as life events, depression, illness, and medication use that often disrupt their sleep patterns. Overcoming these challenges can help women enjoy the daily benefits of feeling alert and well rested.

It is recommended that women get between seven and eight hours of nightly sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers the following tips for women on how to get a good nights sleep:

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.

  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.

  • Get a full nights sleep every night.

  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.

  • Do not bring your worries to bed with you.

  • Do not go to bed hungry, but dont eat a big meal before bedtime either.

  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within six hours of your bedtime.

  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.

  • Get up at the same time every morning.

Those who suspect that they might be suffering from a sleep disorder are encouraged to consult with their primary care physician or a sleep specialist.


Contact: Kathleen McCann
American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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