It is not uncommon for cancer patients to have trouble sleeping during treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 50% of all cancer patients don’t sleep well at some point.
Reasons Cancer Patients Have Trouble Sleeping
Stress. The biggest reason that cancer patients develop sleep-related problems is related to the emotional turmoil that the disease places on them and their family. Sleep difficulties may begin after the diagnosis, at which time their minds may be filled with concerns about making treatment decisions and many uncertainties about the future. The heavy burden of these worries is a natural precipitator of stress. Some patients may have trouble sleeping because of anxiety or depression, and concern for their family and their financial situation may worsen their sleeplessness.
Sleep Apnea. Another thing that hampers cancer patients’ sleep quality is sleep apnea. Sleep lab clinicians define sleep apnea as regular interruptions in the sleep cycle where a cancer patient stops breathing for at least 10 seconds each time. CTCA found that 30 percent of cancer patients who complained of fatigue due to poor quality sleep were diagnosed with sleep apnea. They also found that the rate of sleep apnea among patients with head and neck cancers could be as high as 80 percent. Sleep apnea is more prevalent among cancer patients than it is to the general public.
Drug Reactions. Chemotherapy drugs can cause fatigue in some people. Your natural response is to take a nap or sleep during the day to shake the exhaustion. If you sleep for longer than an hour during the day, you may disrupt your nighttime sleep cycle, and that will compound the problem. Some medications that are designed to alleviate some of the worst side effects of chemotherapy cause severe sleep disturbances. Steroids are known for their stimulating effect. Chemocare, a chemotherapy resource that partners with the Cleveland Clinic advise chemotherapy patients to talk to their treatment team about taking steroids early in the day.
Improve Your Sleep During Cancer Treatment
Cleveland Clinic’s Jamie Schwachter, BSN, MSN, NP, advises cancer patients who are having trouble sleeping, regardless of their sleep problems, to think about all the potential causes. She suggests that cancer patients keep a sleep diary for at least a week between their appointments. Our Choose Hope Words of Encouragement Journal is an ideal tool to use for jotting down your observations. So is our Words of Encouragement Mini Padfolio with Ribbon Applique.
Keep track of your sleep and waking times and the issues you think may contribute to your sleep difficulties. Make a note of things you’re feeling before going to sleep or while you’re lying awake. Also, keep track of your medication schedule. This information can help your treatment team help you find practical ways to combat your sleeplessness or poor sleep quality.
Useful Tips That May Improve Sleep Quality
Follow these suggestions to help you improve the quality of your sleep and find the routine that works best for you.
- Try to limit your daytime naps to no more than an hour. Anything longer may interfere with your sleep or keep you from falling asleep when you go to bed.
- Develop a nighttime routine that helps you wind down before bedtime. This means the room should be clean, comfortable and dark. If possible, don’t keep a television, computer, tablet or cellphone in the bedroom. You want to get yourself to understand that the bedroom is for sleeping and relaxing, and nothing else.
- Eat your dinner early in the evening to prevent the digestive process from interfering with your sleep. Late night meals keep you awake rather than help you sleep. Try herbal tea before bed to help yourself relax.
- Avoid taking medications that produce stimulant-type effects in the late afternoon or evening. That includes drugs like hormones and steroids.
- Make your bedroom look and feel like an inviting spa-like retreat. A warm, inviting and a relaxing room is conducive to better sleep.
- Make sure that the bed is made every day and that the sheets are washed and changed every few days. Choose comfortable pajamas that are suited to the temperature in your home and bedroom.
- Don’t consume caffeinated drinks or alcohol late in the afternoon or evening. Both substances interfere with sleep.
- Pamper yourself with our Dionis Body Wash and Lotion. A relaxing warm bath is an effective way to wind down, and the calming effect may help you fall asleep quickly.
Everyone is unique, and the impact that different cancers and their treatment protocols have on patients will naturally vary. Don’t be afraid to talk to your treatment team or anyone else who is involved in your care plan. Your ability to get enough sleep, and to get the most restful sleep is critical to your ability to continue treatment and the speed with which you regain your health and recover.