How Patients Can Cope With Insomnia

When you experience long-term sleep disruptions, your risk for certain diseases like cancer can increase. But the relationship between cancer and sleep can also work the other way. Getting a good night’s sleep can also be challenging when undergoing cancer treatment, especially for survivors.

What is insomnia, and how can cancer patients manage this sleep condition during or after cancer treatment?

This article discusses how cancer patients can manage insomnia during or after cancer treatment. Additionally, this article lists the rare cancer types that individuals should look out for.

4 Tips to Manage Insomnia During or After Cancer Treatment

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which a person has difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep. This condition can happen even when you have enough time to sleep well and in a good sleep environment.

For a cancer patient inside a hospital, getting a normal night’s sleep can be difficult for the following reasons:

  • HospitalenvironmentPatients can have difficulty sleeping with an uncomfortable bed, pillow, or room temperature. Noise and sharing a room with strangers can also contribute to sleeping issues.
  • Hospital routineDoctors and nurses entering the room to give drugs or perform exams can interrupt the patient’s sleep.

Additionally, the quality of sleep a patient experiences while staying in the hospital can be affected by the patient’s anxiety and age.

Anxiety, depression, and stress are common reactions when you learn you have cancer and have to receive treatments and stay in the hospital. Such conditions can also cause insomnia.

Alternatively, chronic insomnia can increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer.

Improve your diet and exercise habits

Even when you’re in the hospital, you can still improve sleep by making the following changes to your exercise and diet routines:

  • Stay physically active during the day
  • Ensure you have regular exercise, but don’t perform such activities within three hours before bed
  • Eat a protein-rich snack like milk or turkey two hours before sleeping
  • Don’t eat heavy, sugary, or spicy foods before sleeping
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol before bedtime
  • Avoid foods, drinks, and dietary supplements that contain caffeine

Other lifestyle changes you should consider to help improve sleep include:

  • Relaxing before sleeping
  • Maintaining the same daily schedule for sleeping and waking up, regardless of how little you sleep
  • Avoid naps
  • Avoiding watching television or working inside the bedroom

Work Through the Hospital Routines

Staying in the hospital during or after cancer treatment can give the patient a challenging sleeping time, especially considering hospital routines that can interrupt sleep. If you’re a hospital patient, you can do the following:

  • Ask your caregivers to schedule care so that they wake you up the least number of times at night
  • Request a massage or back rub to help you relax or relieve pain

Participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT-I, short for cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, can help you control or remove negative thoughts and actions keeping you awake. Doctors typically recommend CBT-I as the initial treatment for insomnia since it’s equally effective or better than sleep medications.

Cognitive behavioral strategies to help improve sleep include:

  • Relaxation techniquesIncludes progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and biofeedback to help reduce anxiety during bedtime. These techniques help you control breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, and mood to help you relax.
  • Stimulus control therapyHelps remove factors conditioning your mind to resist sleep. One example is setting a consistent wake and bedtime schedule and avoiding naps.
  • sleep restriction: Decreases the time you spend in bed through partial sleep deprivation that makes you tired the next night. Once your sleep improves, your time in bed gradually increases.
  • Light therapyUses light to help push back your body’s internal clock if you fall asleep too early and awaken too early.

Your doctor can recommend other strategies associated with your sleep environment and lifestyle to help you develop habits promoting a sound sleep routine.

Take prescription medications

If you think diet, exercise, and CBT-I still do little to improve your sleep, consult a doctor who can prescribe sleeping pills.

While doctors usually don’t recommend taking prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks, they can approve the following medications for long-term use:

  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo)

Although prescription sleeping pills may help improve sleep, they can cause side effects such as daytime grogginess and increased falling risk. These sleeping pills can also be habit-forming. So ask your doctor about the benefits and potential side effects of these medicines.

Rare Cancer Types to Look Out for

Cancers, including rare ones like mesothelioma, can bring about a life-changing experience for the person and their families.

Visit the Mesothelioma Group‘s site for more information about mesothelioma and how to prevent and treat the symptoms of this disease.

Moreover, cancer symptoms or the side effects of cancer treatments can cause other conditions like insomnia.

To give you an idea, ask your doctor or oncologist and look out for rare cancers, such as the following:

  • Adenoid cystic carcinomaThis rare cancer affects the lungs, breast, or salivary glands.
  • MedulloepitheliomaThis form of cancer affects the eyes of children.
  • MesotheliomaThis disease usually occurs in the tissues lining the lungs or abdomen.
  • ParagangliomaAlso called extra-adrenal pheochromocytoma, this disease is a rare form of nerve tumor.
  • Translocation renal cell carcinomaThis disease is a rare form of cancer in the kidney.

Scientists are still looking for ways to treat cancer effectively and address other conditions like insomnia associated with this dreaded disease. Contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to donate and contribute to ongoing cancer research, advocacy, and patient support.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night to stay healthy! Here are 10 tips to help you get more sleep:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Go to bed when you feel sleepy, even if it’s before your bedtime.
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Establish relaxing bedtime rituals.
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
  • Limit exposure to light in the evenings.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.

If you live in Alaska, call Alaska Sleep Clinic for your free consultation.

Women and Sleep Flyer

Men and Sleep Flyer


  1. Lack of Sleep and Cancer: Is There a Connection?

  1. Sleep Disorders (PDQ®) – Patient Version

  1. Insomnia: What Is Insomnia?

  1. Insomnia: Diagnosis & Treatment

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