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Light therapy may help cancer survivors sleep better

Feb. 8, 2018—Trouble sleeping is common for people who've gone through cancer treatment, but a new preliminary study has found that light therapy may help.

Sleep problems affect up to 44 percent of people who've had cancer treatment. Lack of sleep among people who've survived cancer can go on for years, researchers said.

But this pilot study found that using a light box for 30 minutes in the morning helped a small group of cancer survivors sleep longer and more efficiently, meaning the proportion of time in bed spent actually sleeping improved.

How light therapy works

When you use a light box, you're exposed to very bright, artificial light that helps synchronize your internal body clock. That same internal clock helps your body to sleep and wake up.

In general, adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But many people get less. People with cancer, in particular, often have trouble sleeping—even long after treatment ends.

People with cancer may experience depression as well. Light therapy is a common treatment for a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Typically, people with SAD feel depressed during the fall and winter when there's less sunlight and feel better in the spring and summer.

How it helped

The cancer survivors in the study sat 18 inches from a bright white light box for 30 minutes each morning, for four weeks. During that time, their sleep became normal again and continued for three weeks after the study ended.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

To learn more about SAD and how light therapy and other treatments can help, check out this infographic.

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