Insomnia: Getting Sleep During Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments can often have an effect on your sleep cycle. Some patients find that taking certain drugs, side effects of medications, and the overall stress of having cancer can contribute to restlessness or an inability to achieve a restful night's sleep during cancer treatments. Even without cancer, sleep is important for the body to help rest the muscles and recharge the mind. Sleep deprivation can cause mood changes, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and can impair motor function.

The physical and mental strain of cancer treatment can cause insomnia. This lack of sleep, coupled with other side effects of cancer treatment can cause unnecessary worry that can make insomnia worse. Restless leg pain, nausea, muscle weakness, and other physical effects of treatment can make patients very uncomfortable and can also cause trouble sleeping.

Developing healthy sleep habits during treatment can help to ease side effects and relieve anxiety by helping you achieve a restful night's sleep. Here are a few tips for developing healthy sleep habits:


Set a sleep schedule. Help your internal clock know when your body should rest by setting a time frame for sleep and sticking to it. Most adults need approximately 8 hours of sleep per night to achieve optimal rest. You know your body and schedule best, so set sleep and wake times that work for you and try not to stray from these times.


Turn off all screens for at least one hour prior to bedtime.


Find a comfortable sleeping temperature. Use a fan or an extra blanket to achieve your ideal comfort level.


Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Blackout shades can help to keep light from streetlights or passing cars out of your room.


Create a nighttime routine. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth and setting a morning alarm immediately before getting into bed. Doing the same things at the same time each night immediately before sleeping can help train your brain to know when it is time to shut down for the night.


Don't eat or exercise 2 hours prior to going to sleep. However, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising as regularly as possible will help create the need for a restful night's sleep.


Try not to lay in bed without sleeping. If you are tired, but not yet sleepy, rest in a recliner or on the couch and then go get into bed when drowsy and ready to fall asleep.


Avoid caffeine 6-12 hours before sleep and avoid alcohol 3-5 hours before sleep.


Try taking a warm bath or shower right before bed. This will help to release tension in the muscles, allowing you to fully relax.


Talk to your doctor about when to take your medications. Try to take medications that give you energy, such as steroids, earlier in the day, and ones that make you drowsy closer to bedtime.


Wear a sleeping cap. If you are experiencing hair loss from chemo treatments, a significant amount of heat is lost through the head, leaving you feeling cold and chilled. A sleeping cap is important for helping you to regulate your body temperature (and keeps you cozy during the day too!)


What other challenges have you faced during treatments? Are there any tips we missed for getting a better night's sleep? Please share.