UB receives $2.2 million grant to test behavioral therapy as remedy for insomnia in cancer patients

Close up of an alarm clock reading 3:00 am as a woman in the background lays awake.

Insomnia, a common side effect of cancer, affects nearly 40 percent of patients

Release Date: December 12, 2018

Portrait of Grace Dean.
“To date, little research exists on strategies to reduce insomnia in cancer survivors.”
Grace Dean, associate professor in the UB School of Nursing

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo researchers received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to conduct one of the first studies on the effectiveness of behavioral therapy in treating insomnia among cancer survivors.

The five-year grant will fund the investigation of brief behavioral treatment for insomnia (BBTI) as a low cost, nurse-delivered therapy for insomnia, a sleep disorder that can have devastating effects on health, function and well-being.

“To date, little research exists on strategies to reduce insomnia in cancer survivors,” says Grace Dean, PhD, principal investigator and associate professor in the UB School of Nursing.

Symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatments render cancer survivors at increased risk for insomnia. The disorder affects an estimated 40 percent of patients, says Dean.

“The effects of insomnia in cancer survivors include a higher risk of depression and anxiety, an increased risk of infections, greater severity of other pre-existing symptoms and poorer overall quality of life,” says Dean.

BBTI integrates circadian science and behavioral principles of conditioned learning. The intervention focuses on strengthening the association between the bed and bedroom with sleep; restricting time spent in bed to match the average time spent asleep; and controlling the influence of environmental factors (such as light, temperature and noise) and health behaviors (such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine) on sleep.

While BBTI has been proven effective in treating non-cancer populations, the therapy is not widely available due to the high cost and lack of trained professionals to deliver the treatment.

The researchers will test the effectiveness and durability of the therapy in cancer populations by examining 158 cancer survivors for sleep quality, mood and quality of life. Participants will report the severity of their insomnia before treatment and at intervals of one, three and twelve months after therapy.

If successful, BBTI has the potential to lower the burden of disease for cancer survivors, as well as improve well-being, strengthen self-determination, and prevent other illnesses and complications, says Dean.

“This study is a great opportunity to determine if BBTI is a cost-effective treatment, delivered by nurses to improve quality of life in cancer survivors with insomnia,” says Dean.

Additional UB investigators include Suzanne Dickerson, DNS, professor and chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Clinical Sciences in the School of Nursing; and Gregory Wilding, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

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