Exercise could help breast cancer survivors struggling with sleeping problems

Rebecca Di Piazza was just starting her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24.

"I was very young," Di Piazza said. "It was definitely not on my trajectory."

She beat it, but it took a lot: a partial mastectomy, a lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapy for a year.

Even then, there was more.

"I was struggling with sleep, with concentration," Di Piazza said. "I often had to take medication to fall asleep at night."

Many women who survive breast cancer end up facing yet another challenge: insomnia.

"We estimate that over a million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. are suffering from sleep disturbances or sleep dysfunction," said Dr. Laura Rogers, a cancer researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

To see if exercise can help sleep quality, UAB researchers split 222 breast cancer survivors into two groups. Some volunteered, while others worked out at least two-and-a-half hours a week.

For the exercise group, there was a clinically significant improvement in self-reported sleep quality, Rogers said.

Di Piazza agrees. She said it used to take her two hours to fall asleep, but after the trail, she said she could normally fall asleep within 30 minutes.

Besides getting a better night's sleep, Di Piazza said she regained something else from being in the trial.

"It was an opportunity for me to take control of something," Di Piazza said. "As a cancer survivor, you often feel a loss of control when you're going through treatment."
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