Insomnia and other sleep/wake disturbances are experienced commonly by people with cancer. Some people have trouble falling asleep, while others wake up during the night and are unable to go back to sleep. Causes include anxiety, medications, night sweats, and the effects of cancer treatment. It is normal for people with cancer to worry about their disease and its impact on their lives and on the lives of friends and family members. When worry interferes with sleep, it is important to treat insomnia to help improve your quality of life.
Some medications can interfere with sleep. Steroids can cause insomnia. Multiple trips to the bathroom overnight due to diuretics and the amount of fluid you are asked to drink while receiving chemotherapy can disrupt sleep. Side effects including pain, nausea, shortness of breath and anxiety, can prevent a good night’s sleep. Sleep loss contributes to fatigue.
- Practice good sleep hygiene
- Go to bed only when you are sleepy
- If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and engage in a quiet activity, such as reading
- Engage in bedtime rituals (e.g., warm bath, meditation, a light snack) that help you relax and signal your body it’s time for sleep
- Do not eat, read, write or watch TV while in bed
- Make your bedroom dark, quiet and cool
- Eat a high-protein snack (e.g., peanut butter, chicken, cheese, or nuts) 2 hours before bedtime
- Do not eat a meal or exercise 2 hours or less before bedtime
- Minimize daytime naps
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Engage in relaxation therapies
- Listen to guided meditations or soothing music
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Aromatherapy; focus on a scented candle
- Avoid taking oral steroids after 4:00 p.m.
Call your doctor within 24 hours if you have unrelieved pain, anxiety, depression that interferes with sleep, or no improvement in sleep.