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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAB Investigator Evaluates Link between Gardening and Enhanced Sleep for Cancer Survivors

Ms. Mallory G. Cases, doctoral student in the department of health behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recently presented findings of a randomized controlled trial indicating the physical activity as well as the time spent outside while gardening may enhance sleep in cancer survivors, who tend to experience sleep-related difficulties that adversely affect their quality of life. Additional potential benefits of gardening include decreased feelings of anxiety and an improved ability to achieve relaxation. These results were shared at the eighth Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the LIVESTRONG Foundation.

[Ms. Mallory G. Cases]

To evaluate the role of sleep quantity and quality on the mental and physical health of study participants, the researchers assigned 46 early-stage cancer survivors, ages 60 and older, to one of two groups: 24 participants tended a home vegetable garden immediately (mentored by an Alabama Cooperative Extension System Master Gardener and provided with seeds, plants, and other gardening supplies to support spring-, summer-, and fall-harvest gardens); and 22 participants were wait-listed for 12 months. Using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), participants were measured at baseline and again after a year for such elements as duration and quality of sleep; use of medication to aid in sleep; disturbances occurring while sleeping; and any dysfunction experienced during waking hours.

Of the 16 study subjects in the immediate intervention group who completed the baseline and one-year PSQI, “those receiving the intervention experienced a significant decrease in sleep medication dependence (baseline=1.44, 12-month=.94, t=2.449, p=.027) and improvement in global PSQI scores (baseline=6.80; 12-month=5.47; t=2.355; p=.034). This group also reported a near significant improvement in sleep duration (baseline=.81; 12-month=.50; t=2.076; p=.055) and habitual sleep efficiency (baseline=.60; 12-month=.27; t=2.092; p=.055).”

Although further research is recommended to confirm findings, these results indicate that gardening interventions — in particular those promoting the growing of vegetables — show the potential to benefit cancer survivors by reducing their dependence on sleep medications and by improving their quality and duration of sleep overall.

“It is of the utmost importance that cancer survivors are getting restful sleep, for immune health, quality of life, and decreased risk of recurrence. If we have in fact found an intervention which improves sleep quality in cancer survivors while decreasing their dependence on sleep aid medications, this could be promising for the nearly 16 million survivors in the United States alone,” says Ms. Cases.

UAB co-investigators in this study are Dr. Andrew D. Frugé, postdoctoral fellow, and Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, professor, in the department of nutrition sciences; Dr. Julie L. Locher, professor in the department of health care organization and policy; Dr. Alan B. Cantor, professor in the department of biostatistics; and Dr. Jennifer F. De Los Santos, professor in the department of radiation oncology.