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Tai Chi is an Effective Treatment for Insomnia in Breast Cancer Survivors

Breast cancer survivors are more than two times more likely to have insomnia, which is characterized by symptoms like difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently, or the inability to fall back asleep. Due to these effects, women may experience compromised functioning during the day. The “gold standard” therapy for breast cancer survivors is currently cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-1), which includes sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques and other ways to improve sleep quality.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been found to be superior in addressing sleep problems in comparison to pharmaceutical treatments.

Tai Chi Chih (TCC) is a movement meditation exercise that has been shown to successfully lower rates of insomnia, depression and fatigue in older adults. Although no previous research was conducted to determine whether TCC would be effective in breast cancer survivors, researchers at UCLA conducted such a a trial in Los Angeles  between April 2008 and July 2012. At the 15-month endpoint, 43.6% of women receiving CBT-I and 46.7% of those receiving TCC showed a meaningful response to treatment. Patients undergoing both interventions showed significant improvements in total sleep time, sleep onset latency, sleep efficiency and wake after sleep onset.  This suggests that Tai Chi could be as effective in treating sleep difficulties in breast cancer survivors as the “gold standard” therapy of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia.


According to the researchers, TCC’s effectiveness can possibly be associated with the ability to reduce sympathetic arousal and inflammation. The study concluded that given the relative accessibility of Tai Chi in community settings and the more limited availability of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, Tai Chi could be an excellent potential resource for survivors of many kinds of cancers who are struggling with sleep difficulties.


The Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology offers weekly Qi Gong classes, another movement based therapy, as well as workshops in Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia.


For the full article by the AJMC:


For the published research article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology:

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