Why cancer and trouble sleeping go hand-in-hand

December 19, 2018 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you may find yourself having trouble sleeping. Don’t worry — you are not alone.

As high as 59 percent of all cancer patients have trouble getting an adequate amount of sleep each night.

How can you tell if it’s a problem? You may have a sleep disorder if you:

  • Consistently take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
  • Feel fatigued and irritable during the day, even after getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night
  • Wake up several times in the middle of the night and remain awake, sometimes for hours, or wake up too early in the morning
  • Take frequent or long naps during the day
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Fall asleep at inappropriate times
  • Snore loudly or make loud breathing or gasping noises when you sleep
  • Have an irresistible urge to move your legs or a tingling or crawling feeling in the legs, particularly at bedtime
  • Require a stimulant like caffeine to keep you awake during the day

A personal or family history of insomnia, presence of depression or an anxiety disorder, advanced age, or being a woman may put you at a higher risk for developing a sleep disorder during cancer treatment. These factors can also contribute to difficulty sleeping: 

  • Certain medications
  • Hospitalization
  • Chemotherapy, radiation or hormonal therapy
  • Pain or hot flashes
  • Nausea or vomiting

It’s no surprise that sleep is important, but it is especially important if you are receiving treatment for cancer. Aside from making you feel tired and irritable, insomnia can often worsen other cancer-related symptoms like pain, fatigue, depression or anxiety. It can also make it more difficult for you to cope with the disease and cause feelings of isolation.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested. Making small changes in your routine, like avoiding caffeine before bedtime or choosing a quiet setting for rest at the same time each day, can improve the quality of your sleep.

To treat your insomnia you need to figure out why you can’t sleep. Are you taking a medication that is affecting your ability to stay asleep? Are you taking long naps during the day that are causing you to stay awake all night? If you can’t figure it out, talk to your healthcare team. They can help you manage your symptoms and good a better night’s sleep.

How do you get enough rest? Tell us in the below comments.

Related blogs:

Can’t sleep? Try this.

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

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