Sleep Management for Survivors

Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep) is common for all people and is especially problematic for cancer survivors.

Studies estimate that at least half of all cancer survivors struggle with insomnia. However, sleep is extremely important for your physical and mental health. A good night’s sleep helps you think clearly, lowers your blood pressure, improves your appetite and strengthens your immune system.

You may be having trouble sleeping for many reasons such as physical side effects from illness or cancer treatment, or from stress and anxiety. If you’re having problems with falling asleep, staying asleep, early morning awakenings, or excessive daytime sleepiness or napping, try some of these strategies

Tips to improve sleep and wake patterns

Exercise regularly

Walking and other forms of exercise have been shown to improve sleep and decrease fatigue. However, make sure to exercise at least two hours before bedtime.

Avoid caffeine

Avoid caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or soft drinks, at least six hours before going to bed.

Eat early

Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.

Get some protein

Try having a high-protein snack two hours before bedtime such as a handful of almonds or a glass of milk.

Minimize screen time

Avoid electronics before bed. Television and bright light stimulate your brain activity, making it difficult to fall asleep. Whether it's television, email or texting, give yourself a nice window of time to unplug before bed.


Practice gentle stretching, deep breathing, visualization, mindfulness or meditation. Consider listening to soothing music, reading a book or dimming the lights before bed.

Clear your head

Allow yourself some time to clear your mind before going to bed. Consider writing down any thoughts, concerns or responsibilities that may keep you up at night.

Keep a routine

Create consistent sleep habits. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Develop a standard, predictable bedtime routine such as reading a book or listening to calming music before bed.

Get comfy

Sleep in a dark, quiet, comfortable room.

Cool down

Keep your sleeping environment cool. Cooling can slow you down both physiologically and mentally. The ideal temperature for sleep is 68°, so try to maintain this temperature in your bedroom at night.

Get enough sleep

Allocate enough time for sleep and plan the rest of your schedule accordingly. Getting a good night’s sleep means seven to eight hours per night for adults, nine to 10 hours for teens and at least 10 hours for children.

Use your bed for sleeping

Don’t do other activities in bed such as eating, working or watching television. Use your bed only for sleeping and intimacy.

Don’t nap

Avoid napping during the day. However, if you feel drowsy or fatigued and need to nap during the day, limit your nap time to 20 or 30 minutes, no more than twice a day.

Journal Your Sleep Patterns

Additionally, consider using a sleep diary to track what may be keeping you up at night, what you did each day to try to combat your inability to sleep, and whether or not that helped. If you continue to have sleeping problems, reach out to your health care provider and talk to them about these issues to determine if there are better coping strategies for you.