Sleep problems and cancer

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During cancer treatment, your sleep might be affected by noise when staying in the hospital, or because you are stressed or in pain. Learn about what happens when you don't get enough sleep and how to manage sleep problems.

Key points

  • Sleep problems include trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or getting too much or too little sleep.
  • Not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, concentration and attention.
  • To help deal with sleep problems, try to make your bedroom a place only for sleep; block out noise and light; control pain; and go to bed at the same time every night.

What kind of sleep problems might I have?

Sleep problems could mean having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or even getting too much or too little sleep. This can be caused by many things.

Staying in the hospital for treatment can be quite disruptive to your sleep. It’s very noisy and nurses will come in your room throughout the night to check on you or give medications. There is also more light in the hospital than you might be used to in your own bedroom. At home, you may have sleep problems because you’re worried, stressed or in pain.

Not getting enough sleep has many negative effects. It can affect your memory, concentration and attention. These are also side effects of radiation treatment. Not getting enough sleep can make these problems a lot worse. At night, while you’re asleep, your body grows, heals and recovers from the day. So it’s very important to get enough sleep while you’re getting treatment for cancer.

How can I deal with sleep problems?

Since sleep is so important, here are some tips to help you get enough!

  • At home, make your bedroom a place for sleep – and only sleep. Remove any computer games, your TVs and anything else that can cause artificial light or keep you awake and distracted. You can even use black-out curtains to make it really dark, even during the daytime.
  • Try blocking out the light and noise in the hospital with earplugs, a night shade and/or a sleep mask over your eyes.
  • Make sure your pain is well controlled – it’s really hard to sleep if you aren’t comfortable. Talk to your health-care team if you find your pain is keeping you awake at night.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night – even on weekends!
  • Avoid things like caffeine or pills to keep you awake during the day. These can disrupt your sleep later at night.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. While it may make people feel sleepy, the sleep they get isn’t good.
  • A warm bath or hot shower before bed can help relax you and get you ready to sleep. This also leaves you extra time in the morning so you can sleep a bit later!
  • If you’re staying awake because you’re stressed or worried, try to practice coping strategies before bed.
  • Try practicing yoga before bed to stretch out tense muscles and help you relax.

If your lack of sleep is really severe, make sure you talk to your health-care team about it. They can also give you some tips to help!

Last updated: September 3rd 2019