Lack of zzz’s got you down? Learn how to manage cancer-related insomnia

March 08, 2017 | by Mansoina Baweja, M.D.

Do you find yourself lying in bed with your eyes wide open, tossing and turning all night long? If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, you are in good company. 

Insomnia is no stranger to cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, as many as half of patients with cancer have problems sleeping. Unfortunately, not getting a good night’s sleep is like a domino effect for your body. Lack of sleep can cause other cancer-related symptoms including pain, fatigue, depression or anxiety to worsen.

Work together with your doctor to discover the cause of insomnia and find the best way to treat it. Your doctor may examine the following factors:
  • Your normal sleeping habits, such as when you go to bed and how long it takes you to fall asleep
  • Any past medical conditions that might affect sleep
  • Whether you have anxiety, depression, are worried about the cancer getting worse or returning, or have financial concerns
  • If you are in pain, are nauseous, or have any other frequent symptoms like shortness of breath
  • The type of medication you are taking, as well as any recent weight changes
In the meantime, try making these small changes to improve the quality of your sleep:
  • Sleep as much as your body tells you to, but when you’re awake, try to exercise at least once a day, 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime or longer if it affects your sleep. Try drinking warm, caffeine-free drinks, such as warm milk or decaf tea, before sleep.
  • Choose a quiet setting for rest at the same time each day. Take short daytime naps if needed (less than an hour) to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep.
  • Take prescribed sleeping medicine or pain relievers at the same time each night.
  • Have someone rub your back or massage your feet before bedtime.
  • Keep sheets clean, neatly tucked in, and as free from wrinkles as possible.
  • Talk with your cancer team about relaxation therapy or getting a referral to a hypnotherapist. Meditation, guided imagery or self-hypnosis can help you feel relaxed and sleepy.
  • Keep your phone out of your bedroom and off your nightstand. The blue light emitted when you use electronic gadgets like your cell phone, computer, tablet and television restrains the production of melatonin, which keeps your brain alert and controls your sleep/wake cycle.
How do you get a good night’s rest? Tell us in the below comments.
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