Wearable tech could increase activity and lead to better sleep

Friday 19 July, 2019

The health benefits of a good night’s sleep are becoming increasingly apparent, and evidence suggests that cancer survivors have more trouble sleeping than the general population.

Dr Nga Nguyen is researching the impact wearable devices can have on activity and sleep.

We spend one third of our life sleeping and its importance to our health is becoming increasingly apparent.

The field of sleep study has developed dramatically in recent years, especially in cancer survivor populations where there’s evidence sleep deprivation is worse than in the general population.

Psychiatrist Catherine Mason recently spoke to Julie McCrossin on our ‘The Thing About Cancer’ podcast about the issue of sleep, saying there are a lot of different ways in which cancer can affect it.

“The most obvious is probably that the diagnosis of cancer represents a threat − to yourself, or to the people you care about or to your future − and when we feel we're under threat, we get a stress response.

“… if that stress response is getting triggered by thoughts about the cancer, it's really difficult to relax enough to get off to sleep.”

She said it was important for cancer patients to tell their treatment team if sleep was becoming an issue for them because it’s as important as nutrition and exercise.

With the help of funding from our supporters, Cancer Council Victoria’s Dr Nga Nguyen is researching the role that technology can play in improving physical activity and sleep for cancer patients.

Dr Nga Nguyen

Dr Nga Nguyen

“I’m interested in physical activity behaviours, especially in how applying technologies can enhance these behaviours. Physical behaviours don’t just include exercise (moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity); we’re also interested in sedentary behaviour (sitting time) and sleep.”

Wearable technology was used in our ACTIVATE Trial, which tested whether a wearable activity tracker, like a Fitbit, together with goal setting and telephone-based consulting would help women who had had breast cancer become more active.

We found these changes significantly improved the physical activity and reduced inactivity for study participants.

Dr Nguyen is now investigating whether the Trial also had an impact on sleep quality and quality of life for participants.

“The results of the ACTIVATE Trial demonstrated that the use of wearable activity trackers could also improve sleep quality for cancer survivors and had some modest improvements in health-related quality of life,” she said.

“The results are comparable with previous trials using aerobic and meditation methods (e.g. yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong) in cancer survivors. The strength of this study is that we used both technology and self-report to measure sleep outcomes which is the recommended approach to ensure accuracy.”

Dr Nguyen said that given the low cost and wide reach of fitness devices, they could play an important role for cancer survivors in improving activity levels, sleep quality and other health-related quality of life measures.

“With further funding I hope we can undertake more intervention studies to explore whether inexpensive and wearable technology could help improve the sleep quality of cancer survivors.”