A study comparing two different ways of treating sleeplessness in cancer patients

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Breast cancer
Prostate cancer





This study looked at a treatment called cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) as treatment for sleeplessness (insomnia). It was for people who had one of the following

The study was supported by Cancer Research UK.

Insomnia is a common problem for people with cancer. This can be due to a number of things such as stress or the side effects of treatment. We know from research that people who are not able to sleep are more likely to be depressed and anxious than people who don’t have problems sleeping. People with insomnia also find it more difficult to cope with their situation, and it can affect how they feel physically.

Doctors usually treat sleeping problems with sleeping tablets or other medication. In this trial doctors wanted to see if cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is able to help cancer patients sleep better without needing to take medication.

This study compared CBT to ‘treatment as usual’ for patients who have long term insomnia. The aim of the trial was to find out which treatment is best at relieving sleeplessness. And more about how they affect quality of life.

Summary of results

The trial team found that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) may be a useful and acceptable treatment for cancer patients with insomnia.

150 people took part in this trial

  • Two thirds (100 people) had 5 sessions of CBT with a trained therapist
  • One third (50 people) had ‘treatment as usual’

The researchers asked everybody taking part in the study to keep a sleep diary. When the research team looked at the diaries and analysed the results, they found on average people who had CBT slept for about an hour longer each night than people having standard treatment. This difference was seen for up to 6 months after CBT finished.

The researchers also looked at quality of life. They found that people who had CBT reported fewer problems with tiredness, anxiety and depression than the standard treatment group. No side effects were reported with either treatment.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Colin Espie

Supported by

Cancer Research UK

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/03/025.

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 264

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Around 1 in 5 people take part in clinical trials

3 phases of trials

Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.

Last reviewed:

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