Cancer-Related Insomnia: New Research Finds Effective Treatments

Research & Clinical Trials
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 04/15/2019
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family.
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Dixon, S. (2022, November 23). Cancer-Related Insomnia: New Research Finds Effective Treatments. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from


Dixon, Suzanne. "Cancer-Related Insomnia: New Research Finds Effective Treatments.", 23 Nov 2022,


Dixon, Suzanne. "Cancer-Related Insomnia: New Research Finds Effective Treatments." Last modified November 23, 2022.

Cancer-related insomnia

Nearly 70% of people with cancer experience insomnia symptoms — difficulty falling or staying asleep and/or poor sleep quality.

A new study led by Dr. Jun Mao of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center shows cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture offer solutions for cancer-related insomnia.

“Both treatments, CBT and acupuncture, produced sustained benefit over time,”
Mao told The Mesothelioma Center at “CBT is, overall, a bit more effective.”

Results from this controlled clinical trial support the beneficial effects of nonpharmacologic approaches for insomnia and point the way to effective, nondrug insomnia management options for patients with mesothelioma and other cancers.

Cancer-Related Sleep Problems Common and Unaddressed

According to a comprehensive survey of 25 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, insomnia symptoms affect up to 68% of cancer survivors.

Fewer than 50% of survivors treated at these facilities received optimal insomnia-related care, highlighting the need for effective interventions to address this challenge.

Mao’s study describes cancer-related fatigue and pain contributing to poor sleep quality.

Other cancer experts note the relationship also operates in reverse: Inadequate sleep can worsen fatigue and pain.

Without proper treatment, insomnia may become chronic and debilitating.

Direct Comparison of Nondrug Insomnia Management Options

For the study, the investigators randomized 160 cancer survivors to receive eight weeks of acupuncture or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

Participants completed insomnia assessments at the beginning of the study and at weeks 8, 12, 16 and 20.

Although the interventions only lasted eight weeks, the researchers wanted to determine if the effects of the therapy lasted beyond the treatment period.

This study was a first of its kind. It involved a head-to-head comparison of acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy, enrolled patients with many different types of cancer and included nearly 30% minority participants.

Previous studies focused solely on breast cancer and included 90% white participants.

Limitations of the previous research make it difficult to determine if the results are applicable to patients with other cancers and people of diverse backgrounds.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acupuncture Are Effective

Acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy treatments produced clinically meaningful reductions in insomnia severity and symptom management.

Key Findings of the Trial Include:

  • The beneficial effects of the therapies persisted for the full three-month, post-treatment period.
  • Over the full 20 weeks of follow up, cognitive behavior therapy was slightly more effective overall than acupuncture for improving insomnia.
  • Both therapies yielded similar improvements in fatigue, mood, quality of life and reduced sleep medication use.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy was more effective in white, highly educated men.
  • Women and participants with less formal education appeared to benefit equally from acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Acupuncture was more effective for pain management in the short term.

Options May Depend on Unique Patient Needs

While both interventions proved effective for lessening severity and symptoms of insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy was slightly more effective overall.

“Some insomnia issues are behavioral, such as setting a regular bedtime and eliminating screen time while in bed,” Mao said. “Such behaviors are more directly addressed with cognitive behavioral therapy, which may explain the more effective overall results with this treatment.”

Mao explained how insomnia is not one unified disorder, which is why the effectiveness of each therapy varies in different patient groups.

“For example, people with pain and insomnia may experience pain that disrupts their sleep,” he said. “Acupuncture may be a bit more effective for addressing the pain, which in turn improves patients’ sleep.”

Mao noted more research is needed to figure out how to best provide insomnia treatment to each unique individual.

“It is likely cognitive behavioral therapy improves pain via improvement of sleep,” he said. “However, acupuncture seems to improve pain directly, which agrees with past work in this area.”

blue medical health symbol
Connect with a Mesothelioma Doctor
Find a Top Specialist Near You