A Better Night's Sleep for People With Cancer

It can be hard to get a good night's rest when you're being treated for cancer. Here are some ways to improve the quality of your sleep.

Sleep problems can be bad enough when you're otherwise in good health. But when you're being treated for cancer and already feel fatigued, not sleeping well can be devastating.

Sometimes you can't get a good night's sleep because of anxiety or depression. Other causes include pain, night sweats, or side effects from some cancer medications or other treatments.

When counting sheep doesn't work
Making small lifestyle changes during the day and in the evening can help improve the quality of sleep you get at night. Here are some tips:

  • Stick to a routine. That means waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day, even on weekends. Following a predictable routine at night before bed may also help. For instance, try a relaxing bath or cup of decaffeinated tea followed by 30 minutes of light reading.
  • Exercise in the morning. If your doctor has given the go-ahead to be active, do so early in the day. Exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Avoid heavy evening meals. If your body has to focus on digesting food, it may not be able to fall asleep - or stay asleep - as easily. If you're hungry after dinner, have a light snack at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Find a new spot for work - and naps. Dedicating your bedroom only to nighttime sleep can help make nights more restful. Try napping during the day on a comfortable sofa or bed in a spare room. Set up a workstation in another room in the house, and keep computers out of the bedroom.
  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine. It's a good idea to limit your overall intake. But it's even more important to avoid both of these for 4 to 6 hours before bed. If you usually need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, limiting all fluids for a couple of hours before bed may stop you from having to wake up as often.
  • Do something relaxing. Stress-reducing activities like yoga, listening to music, and even writing in a journal can help you unwind before bed.
  • Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. A too-warm room can make restful sleep difficult. Use fans, open windows, and cover up with lighter sheets and blankets - or skip them altogether - to make the temperature just right for you. Use blackout curtains if outside light filters into the room. They may also reduce outside noise.
  • Treat yourself to new bedding. A set of high-thread-count sheets can make your bed feel like one from a fancy hotel. Replace flat, worn pillows with supportive new ones to make yourself more comfortable.

It's important to talk to your doctor if you're having trouble sleeping, especially if the lack of shut-eye is affecting your ability to function during the day. He or she will talk about the possible causes of your insomnia. For instance, if pain is keeping you up at night, your ED medication may need to be adjusted. In some cases, if lifestyle changes don't help, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to help you sleep.