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REF NO.: 40

SUBJECT: Memorial University sleep study to help cancer survivors

DATE: March 3

The relative survival rate for cancer is better than ever before, meaning that more people will be living as cancer survivors and managing the long-term side effects of the disease and its treatment.

Cancer survivors report that one of the biggest barriers to getting back to “normal” is difficulty with memory, attention and concentration. Approximately 75 per cent of cancer patients have difficulty remembering things, concentrating and paying attention after completing cancer treatments. Insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep, is also a common side effect of cancer. Poor sleep can make it even harder to think straight.

To address these side effects, a new study called Addressing Cancer Treatment-related Insomnia Online in Newfoundland and Labrador (ACTION) aims to increase access to a treatment to improve sleep and investigate whether it can also improve cognitive impairments in cancer survivors across the province.

Dr. Sheila Garland, clinical psychologist, and assistant professor of psychology and oncology at Memorial University, along with her patient partner, Sondria Browne, collaborators at the Dr. H Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre, and other notable researchers across Canada, are conducting the ACTION study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Seeking participants

ACTION is a four-year study looking to enrol 162 participants, making it the largest of its kind globally. Study participants will receive cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

Dr. Garland feels it is important to increase access to this therapy.

“CBT-I is recommended as the first line treatment for insomnia, but it is not available in all setting or locations,” she said. “In order to allow individuals from across the province to participate, we have designed the study to allow the treatment and assessments to take place via video in the comfort of participants’ own home on their computer or iPad.”

Bob Wakeham recently completed the study and emphasized the importance of addressing the emotional and psychological repercussions of cancer, such as insomnia.

“The physical side effects of cancer pale in comparison to the psychological effects of cancer, which are long-lasting,” he said.

Mr. Wakeham completed the study in December 2019 and wants other cancer survivors to know that it can make a significant difference in the quality of their life.

“I highly recommend this study and treatment to people who have had cancer and still suffer from insomnia and all of its repercussions,” he said.

N.L. highest rate per capita

Ms. Browne, the patient co-investigator on the study, was diagnosed with breast cancer and says she knows how it feels to not be able to sleep and the impact that has on your cognitive abilities. 

“I wish the ACTION study was available when I needed it,” she said. “It would have saved me countless nights of lost sleep and the effect of this on my ability to function the next day.”

The study is looking to recruit individuals who report issues with memory, concentration and attention; have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; have completed treatments at least 12 months prior to study entry (hormone or maintenance therapies are acceptable); and who are considered cancer-free or in remission.

According to the 2019 Canadian Cancer Society’s statistics, Newfoundland and Labrador consistently has the highest rate per capita of cancer incidents in Canada, with an estimated 3,800 new cases being diagnosed each year.

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For more information, or to determine eligibility, contact Kathryn Dalton, research co-ordinator at Memorial University’s Sleep, Health and Wellness Lab at 709-864-8035 or email To learn about other ongoing Sleep, Health, and Wellness lab studies, please visit


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