Cancer patients in the U.S. who have trouble getting sleep at night are being sought for a new pilot study exploring the potential of meditation techniques as sleep aids.
The study will probe the effectiveness of “mindfulness meditation” and “mind-body bridging.”
“Awareness training using mind-body interventions is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to pharmacotherapy, which may have many side effects,” said University of Utah researcher David Lipschitz, who along with Yoshio Nakamura, another university researcher, will be conducting the study.
Mindfulness meditation teaches awareness and the skill of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment. It combines basic meditation and yoga, and is based on a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR.
The MBSR program was developed to treat persistent and elevated levels of stress, sleep disturbance and other behavioral problems.
“Programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have shown many benefits for improvements in many different conditions, including sleep,” Lipschitz said.
Mind-body bridging is a technique developed to bring one back to the present moment, to experience thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. It aims to reduce the impact of negative thoughts that contribute to stress.
Over the last two decades, Lipschitz said, complementary alternative medicine has gained.
“Giving doctors the option of evidence-based treatments will provide both them and their patients with alternatives that can complement what their patients receive in regular care,” he said.
Cancer patients in particular may lend some important insight into how much and how well alternative therapies like these work, Lipschitz said, because they are affected physically and psychologically by the disease and its treatments.
“In many cases, these effects persist well after treatment is over since people have concerns about the cancer returning,” he said. “Sleep problems are frequent in many post-treatment cancer patients and many of them are taking medications for better sleep.”
A growing number of studies show that following a yoga or meditation program can help people catch more Z’s, Lipschitz said, but more research is needed to understand the minimum of training needed to see benefits.
One study at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City showed VA patients with sleep disturbance showed improvements in their sleep after two weeks of mind-body bridging.
The University of Utah, Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Cancer Wellness House are looking for men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 who have cancer, completed their treatments at least three months ago and have sleep problems, to participate in the meditation study.
Researchers will randomly assign people into three groups: one will practice mindfulness meditation; one will practice mind-body bridging; and another will go through a sleep education program.
People in all three groups will meet once a week, for three weeks; each session will last two hours.