Effect of exercise based interventions on sleep and circadian rhythm in cancer survivors-a systematic review and meta-analysis

Rachita Gururaj, Stephen Rajan Samuel, K Vijaya Kumar, Ravishankar Nagaraja, Justin W L Keogh

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BACKGROUND: Disrupted circadian rhythm commonly reported in cancer survivors is closely associated with cancer related fatigue, sleep disturbances and compromised quality of life. As more cancer survivors request non-pharmacological treatment strategies for the management of their chronic sleep-related symptoms, there is a need for meta-analyses of various interventions such as exercise on sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances.

METHODS: A search for RCT's was conducted in April 2020 and updated in July 2023 using relevant keywords for cancer, sleep, circadian rhythm and exercise interventions on PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, PEDro and CINAHL.

RESULTS: Thirty-six studies were included for qualitative analysis and 26, for meta-analysis. Thirty-five studies analyzed sleep outcomes, while five analyzed circadian rhythm. RCT's studying the effect of aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, combined aerobic and resistance exercise, physical activity, yoga, or tai chi were included. Meta-analysis results showed significant exercise-related improvements on sleep quality assessed by Pittsburgh Sleep Quality index (PSQI) (SMD = -0.50 [-0.87, -0.13], p = 0.008), wake after sleep onset (WASO) (SMD = -0.29 [-0.53, -0.05], p = 0.02) and circadian rhythm, assessed by salivary cortisol levels (MD = -0.09 (95% CI [-0.13 to -0.06]) mg/dL, p < 0.001). Results of the meta-analysis indicated that exercise had no significant effect on sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency, total sleep time and circadian rhythm assessed by accelerometry values.

CONCLUSION: While some sleep and circadian rhythm outcomes (PSQI, WASO and salivary cortisol) exhibited significant improvements, it is still somewhat unclear what exercise prescriptions would optimize different sleep and circadian rhythm outcomes across a variety of groups of cancer survivors.

IMPLICATION: As exercise does not exacerbate cancer-related circadian rhythm and sleep disturbances, and may actually produce some significant benefits, this meta-analysis provides further evidence for cancer survivors to perform regular exercise.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17053
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2024


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