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Managing Sleep Problems During Cancer Treatment

September 08, 2016

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If you have trouble falling or staying asleep during your cancer treatment, research indicates you're not alone. Up to half of all cancer patients report having insomnia or other sleep disturbances at some point during their treatments. In fact, evidence suggests that some common cancer therapies like chemotherapy, combined with emotional effects like stress and anxiety, can more than double a patient’s risk of experiencing some form of sleeplessness.

A good night's sleep is restorative, both physically and emotionally, and insomnia can directly affect anyone's ability to concentrate and be productive during the day. However, the consequences of insufficient rest are likely to be even more harmful to a person who is fighting cancer. Sufficient quality sleep can naturally boost the immune system – which often becomes weakened during cancer treatment – and thus help the body mend.

Some patients hesitate to mention sleep problems to their treatment teams because they view it as a relatively minor issue or are fearful of becoming dependent on sleeping aids. However, sometimes a minor change is all it takes to achieve an adequate amount of rest that is essential to healing and overall well-being.

Here are some simple steps that you can take to potentially improve your sleep:

  • Take your medications exactly as prescribed.
  • Limit your consumption of sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine throughout the day and especially before bedtime.
  • Use a diary to track everything you eat, drink and do each day, along with your sleep pattern the following evening, to identify possible trends.
  • Take a warm bath or listen to soothing music to help you wind down right before bedtime.
  • Eliminate electronic stimuli like TVs, computers, cell phones and video games at least one hour prior to turning in.
  • Eliminate external disruptive factors, such as sound and light, Ask your physician about complementary treatments, such as massage, yoga and acupuncture.
  • Consider listening to a guided imagery or relaxation app designed to help improve sleep.

If you’re experiencing sleep problems during your cancer treatment, an expert at Moffitt Cancer Center may be able to help. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-MOFFITT or completing a new patient registration form online. Existing patients can request a referral to the Behavioral Medicine Clinic by speaking with your doctor, nurse, or social worker.