Many cancer survivors report that they occasionally have trouble sleeping or that they can’t sleep at all (insomnia). Lack of sleep can lead to other issues such as fatigue, loss of concentration, headaches, and irritability.
To minimize the impact of insomnia, focus on these three possible solutions: managing other side effects of cancer or treatment, creating a good sleep routine, and talking to your healthcare team.
Manage other side effects.
Some side effects of cancer treatment can lead to difficulty sleeping. If you can minimize those side effects, then your sleep may improve.
Nausea may make it difficult for you to go to sleep, and vomiting may wake you up at night.
- Sleeping with your head slightly elevated may help you get more comfortable.
- If your doctor has prescribed medication for nausea, make sure you take it as recommended, especially before bedtime.
- Read Nutrition Tips for Managing Nausea for information on how to get your nausea under control.
Any type of pain can keep you up at night and make it difficult to be comfortable.
- Make sure you take pain medication as recommended, especially before bedtime.
- For more information on managing pain, read Tips for Managing Pain.
If you gained weight as a result of cancer treatment, you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The extra weight can make it difficult to get comfortable. It can also make sleeping more difficult because your body has to work a little harder to function normally, such as regulating breathing.
- Try using a body pillow to give you more sleeping positions.
- Read Nutrition Tips for Managing Weight Gain for more information on how to maintain a healthy weight.
Hormonal changes, such as menopause for women, can disrupt sleep, especially with side effects such as hot flashes and night sweats. Talk to your healthcare team about the best ways to manage hormonal changes. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help manage hormonal changes.
- Cool temperatures can help promote sleep. Make sure your bedroom thermostat is set low and that your pillowcase feels cool to your skin.
- If night sweats are a problem, buy wicking sleepwear to keep you dry at night.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can keep you up at night. It may feel difficult to “turn off your brain.” Finding ways to cope with your stress and anxiety is very important.
- Enjoy a relaxing activity every night before bed to take your mind off cancer. Try working on a crossword puzzle, reading a book, or listening to music.
- Try simple stretches, yoga, or meditation to clear your mind.
At any point in your cancer journey, you may wish to seek emotional support. Support groups, peer matching programs, or individual counseling may help relieve stress and anxiety. Learn more about Emotional Support Programs.
If you are in survivorship, your stress and anxiety may stem from fear of the cancer returning. Read Fear of Recurrence to learn more about coping with this fear.
Create a good sleep routine.
Try to create a comfortable and relaxing sleep routine. For example, every night before bed take a hot bath or read a few chapters of a good book. If you do this every night, it will signal to your body that it is time for sleep. The most important thing is that this routine works for you. Here are some tips to get you started:
Tips for creating relaxing sleep environment:
- Make sure your mattress, bedding, and pillows are comfortable for you.
- Pleasant smells, like lavender, may help you sleep. Try an aromatherapy mist on your pillow.
- Buy a fan or white noise machine to drown out other distracting noises.
- Turn out all the lights, and use blinds or curtains to cover the windows.
- Do not leave the TV or computer on while you are trying to fall asleep.
- Silence all call, email, and text alerts on your phone.
Tips for sleeping through the night:
- Try to go bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Choose a small snack, not a large meal, before bed.
- Digestion may wake you up, but a small snack will keep you from getting hungry during the night.
- Use the restroom right before going to bed.
- Exercise during the day, but do not exercise right before bed.
- The buildup of adrenaline and endorphins from exercise makes it difficult to wind down.
- Limit daytime naps to no more than 30 minutes.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products.
Talk to your healthcare team.
Always talk to your healthcare team if you are having insomnia or difficulty sleeping. Your doctor may recommend prescription medications or over-the-counter sleep aids to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Do not take any medications without consulting your healthcare team first. Some sleep aids can be habit-forming so only take these medications as directed by your doctor.