Sleep study with cancer survivors opens up to Atlantic Provinces

Online First

According to 2019 Canadian Cancer Society statistics, the Atlantic Provinces have the highest rates per capita of cancer incidents in Canada. Thankfully, 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 two of the biggest barriers to getting back to “normal” are difficulty sleeping and problems with memory, attention, and concentration. To address these side effects, a new study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) called “Addressing Cancer Treatment-related Insomnia Online in Newfoundland and Labrador”, or ACTION, aims to increase access to a treatment to improve sleep and investigate whether it can also improve cognitive impairments in cancer survivors. Originally, the study was designed to offer treatment to cancer survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador, but due to the high prevalence of cancer across the Atlantic Provinces, the study team has opened the study to cancer survivors in all of the Atlantic Canada provinces.

ACTION is a four-year study looking to enroll 162 participants, making it the largest of its kind globally. Study participants will receive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).

Dr. Sheila Garland, lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology and oncology at Memorial University, 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 settings or locations,” she said. “In order to allow individuals from across the Atlantic Provinces to participate, we have designed the study to allow the treatment and assessments to take place via video in the comfort of participants’ own homes 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.

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

Sondria 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 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.

For more information, or to determine eligibility, contact Kathryn Dalton, research coordinator 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, visit

Photo credit: Chad fitz / CC BY-SA (