Not Getting Enough Sleep

While sleep disorders affect a small number of healthy people, as many as half of patients with cancer have problems sleeping. The sleep disorders most likely to affect patients with cancer are insomnia and an abnormal sleep-wake cycle.

Sleeping well is important for your physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep helps you to think clearly, lowers your blood pressure, helps your appetite, and strengthens your immune system.

Why do I have trouble sleeping?

  • Physical changes caused by the cancer or surgery
  • Side effects of drugs or other treatments
  • Being in the hospital
  • Stress about having cancer
  • Health problems not related to the cancer

How can I manage a good sleep routine?

  • After lunch, avoid caffeinated foods/drinks such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, alcohol and nicotine (cigarettes)
  • Start a bedtime ritual (such as drinking warm milk, eating a light, high protein snack or reading)
  • Finish exercise at least two hours before bedtime
  • Spend time in bright light during the day
  • Keep up a regular schedule (even if you are tired or didn’t sleep well)
    • If possible, wake up and go to bed at the same time each night
    • Avoid or limit naps
    • Go to bed only when sleepy (if you are still awake after 20 minutes, do something relaxing and go to bed when you get sleepy)
  • Set up an environment that helps you sleep
    • Reduce noise or try white noise
    • Turn off the TV and computer at least one hour before bedtime
    • Sleep in a dark, cool, quiet and relaxing room
    • Make sure you have enough bed covers for warmth or adjust room temperature
    • Use the bed only for sleep and intimacy
    • Do not watch the clock

How can I learn to relax?

  • Take a warm shower or bath before going to bed
  • Try some relaxing activities before bed such as reading, meditation, prayer or listening to calming music
  • Use relaxation and stress reduction techniques
    • Progressive muscle relaxation (relaxing your body, one muscle at a time)
    • Guided imagery (focusing your mind on positive thoughts)
    • Breathing from your stomach
    • Meditation

Additional tips to get restful sleep

  • Be active during the day (exercise, yoga, walking, etc.)
  • Use ear plugs or an eye mask
  • Think about the timing of medications:
    • Diuretic medications (medicines that make you get
    • up at night to urinate)
    • Steroids and other medications that can keep you awake
  • See your doctor to treat the causes of insomnia, if known, such as:
    • Sleep apnea
    • Restless leg syndrome
    • Pain
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
  • Use a sleep diary for two weeks to see what may be keeping you awake

What if I have a special diet?

  • For a renal diet - do not eat snacks
  • For a cardiac diet - eat low fat cottage cheese, reduced fat yogurt, cereal/milk, 1/2 chicken sandwich
  • For a regular diet - eat low fat cottage cheese, reduced fat yogurt, cereal/milk, 1/2 chicken sandwich, cheese/peanut butter with saltine or graham crackers, flan

We have several resources available to you

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(Source: National Cancer Institute: Sleep Problems and Cancer Treatment and Department of Supportive Care Medicine)