If you’ve heard the expression that sleep is a great healer, you’ll have an inkling of why sleep and cancer are intrinsically linked.

However, treatments like chemotherapy often leave patients feeling exceptionally tired, and in need of regular naps during the day. These naps lead to not sleeping properly at night, creating a cycle of broken rest. Medications can also affect sleep and may lead to insomnia, robbing a patient of the valuable hours of sleep their body desperately needs.

A lack of sleep can quickly become problematic, so we’re going to delve deeper into the issue and provide a few useful suggestions for cancer patients and their loved ones


Why Is Sleeping Well So Important During Cancer Treatment?


The connection between sleep and your mental and physical wellbeing has long been proven by medical professionals and scientists. Without proper sleep, your body simply cannot function optimally. If you are already compromised by a disease like cancer, a lack of sleep can have a rather extreme impact on your ability to function. Never mind your ability to fight off the disease and feel strong while undergoing treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.


Understanding Insomnia


It’s important to understand what insomnia is and how it can affect you before understanding how to prevent it. Insomnia is a condition where you cannot fall asleep easily. It is usually only classified as insomnia if you go for three nights in a row without sleeping well.

For some, insomnia can mean having trouble falling asleep when they go to bed. For others, it can mean waking up in the middle of the night after only a few hours of light sleep and then being unable to go back to sleep. Both options will have a major impact on your health if they persist for weeks or months.


What Causes Insomnia And Other Sleep Problems?


There are many reasons someone may be unable to sleep. For a cancer patient, medications such as steroids used in treatment can cause erratic sleep patterns. Stress, anxiety, and depression are also major causes of sleep problems in many people. There’s no doubt that going through treatment for a disease like cancer can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress, as well as bouts of depression.

Big changes in your life and your regular daily patterns can cause upsets to your sleep routine too. The act of going for chemotherapy or increased visits to the hospital could simply cause your insomnia.


5 Tips For Getting Better Sleep When Fighting Cancer


If you are already having issues with your sleep or are suffering from insomnia, there are plenty of ways that you can combat this. It takes a bit of time and work, but you should be able to get your body back into a good rhythm so that you can concentrate on healing.


  • Ensure That Your Medical Team Is Aware Of Your Sleeping Problems

First and foremost, you need to let your doctors know you are having problems sleeping. It may be as simple as shifting your treatment or adjusting your medication to better accommodate your body and your sleeping habits. They should also know any psychiatric problems you’re experiencing, either because of your treatment or just in general.


  • Take Your Medication Early In The Day

Any medication that makes you feel awake or inhibits sleep—again, steroids are a big culprit here—should get taken as early in the day as possible. This will allow you to be active during the day and let you wind down naturally for sleep at the end of the day. Make sure you talk to your prescribing doctor about the treatment and medication they have you on to see if it is causing your sleeping problems.


  • Set A Good Sleeping Routine

Human beings are habitual creatures; we love routines, and our bodies thrive on them. Through a bit of training and mindfulness, you can set a routine for sleep that will tell your body when it is time to relax and prepare for the night. It’s all about giving your mind the right cues.

The most important cue is to set a time for going to bed and for waking up. Keep this consistent every day of the week until you can fall asleep easily and wake up without too much difficulty. It’s important to limit the time you nap during the day, even if you are on medication that makes you drowsy. Rather, look for relaxing activities that help you unwind but don’t let you drift off.


  • Create Relaxation Strategies

If your sleeping problems are related to stress, anxiety, and other mental/mood-related conditions, you need to have strategies in place to calm your mind. Simple breathing exercises or light exercises like walking or stretching are great for bringing your focus to your own body and forgetting about outside stimuli. 

Your relaxation strategies can include little treats for yourself, like a nice cup of tea before you climb into bed or taking a warm bath in the evenings. These small acts help to signal your body that it is time to prepare for sleep.


  • Keep Your Bed For Sleeping

Many of us are guilty of having too many things to stimulate us in our bedrooms—a TV, computer, electronics with blinking lights, and our smartphones right by our sides at all times. This means that the bedroom is not a place that our bodies and minds associate with sleeping. If you can, remove all electronic devices from your bedroom and only climb into bed when you’re ready to go to sleep.

Ensure that your bed is a place you want to spend time in. Make sure that you have a mattress that provides proper support, and that your bedding keeps you warm, or allows you to stay cool. A mattress that’s not supportive will disrupt your sleep as you won’t be comfortable. If you have a fever, bedding that’s too warm or not warm enough will make you restless and interrupt your sleep cycle. 


Sleep and Cancer–Final Thoughts


Sleep is an important part of the recovery process, and it’s essential that you give your body the best opportunity to rest. 

By knowing the facts about sleep and cancer you can talk to your medical practitioner, seek support from a psychologist or counselor, or simply adjust your environment to promote better sleeping habits. Taking steps towards whatever helps you get the best possible night’s sleep is always the best course of action. 



As an editor, Ellen Klein covers topics such as financial management and risk management, as well as health-related topics. She’s a realist and believes that planning for life’s unknowns is best. When she’s not busy with volunteer social work, she can be found scribbling away at her keyboard.