Linda Tucker, a two-time breast cancer survivor, used to spend nights tossing and turning in bed. She couldn't sleep, no matter what she did.
"I absolutely did not sleep, my eyes would not stay asleep, my body just would not relax and I found myself awake until six in the morning," Tucker said in a press release.
As a survivor, Tucker was not alone. Many patients have sleepless nights after breast cancer treatment. Not only does insomnia affect the hours in bed, it makes it hard to concentrate and finish tasks during the day. Scientists explain that sleep disturbance throws off the body's immune functions and can lead to inflammation, which places breast cancer patients at a higher risk for cancer recurrence. To combat these problems, Tucker turned to tai chi, despite her skepticism. She took part in a tai chi study at the University of California, Los Angeles.
After a five-year clinical trial, the UCLA researchers found that tai chi can reduced inflammation in people who have had breast cancer, thus reducing the recurrence risk of cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Michael Irwin, lead researcher and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, analyzed blood samples from 90 participants between 30 to 85 years old, before and after they started the tai chi routine. For many, including Tucker, the results were shocking.
"When people practice tai chi, there is a decrease in the stress hormones produced by the sympathetic nervous system," said Irwin, who is also a UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member.
Tai Chi: Healing Treatment
Through its gentle, flowing movements and focus on breathing, tai chi has benefits as a healing treatment. Although the Chinese martial art was originally developed for self-defense, it has evolved into a graceful, pain-free form of exercise. Tai chi is often described as "meditation in motion," promoting serenity and a sense of well-being.
"I said to myself, this has to be a joke, this is not going to work or do anything," Tucker said in the news release. "But after two sessions the insomnia started going away. I just felt a sense of peacefulness."
Besides calming stress, the ancient Chinese technique lowered inflammation.
"We saw that tai chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation," said Dr. Irwin. "Tai chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation."
Irwin said that he hopes the exercise will gain traction as a form of healing, especially in lower-income families who may not have immediate access to breast cancer treatment.
Have you tried tai chi before? Did it enhance the quality of your sleep?