How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep During and After Cancer Treatment

Sleeping well during and after cancer treatment can be a challenge. Cancer patients often experience pain, fatigue, and discomfort that interferes with sleep.

While it's not always easy, it's important that you get the best sleep possible, as sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and make symptoms or side effects, such as chemo brain, worse.

Improving sleep hygiene, treating sleep disorders, and participating in cognitive behavioral therapy can help cancer patients get better sleep.

How Cancer Affects Sleep

Sleep disturbances are not unusual among cancer patients. Between 30 to 75% of cancer patients experience sleep problems. Unfortunately, sleep problems can persist even after treatment has ended, with 25% of survivors reporting continued difficulty sleeping.

Cancer side effects and treatment can make it more difficult to sleep. Increased anxiety and depression can make way for insomnia. And with extensive treatment, you may be fatigued and experience cancer-related sleep disorders. It's also common to experience hot flashes and night sweats. Sleep disorders can be serious and require treatment to improve your ability to sleep, as well as your quality of life.

How You Can Sleep Better During and After Cancer Treatment

Better sleep habits and treatment for sleep disorders associated with cancer can improve your sleep during and after cancer treatment. Try these tips and methods to improve your sleep:

  • Choose comfortable bedding materials: Cancer patients who experience night sweats or hot flashes may have difficulty sleeping due to heat. You should lower your bedroom temperature, and choose bedding and clothing that sleeps cooler and is more breathable. If you are experiencing discomfort and sensitivity to cold from chemotherapy, a memory foam mattress can offer softness and heat retaining properties.
  • Maintain a sleep routine: Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends, to help train your body to go to sleep at a regular time. You can support a regular sleep schedule with a sleep routine, going through the same actions before bed each night. Your routine can involve stretching, brushing your teeth, reading, and other nighttime tasks. The exact actions you do aren't as important as doing them on a regular basis.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy: This therapy is helpful for insomnia, using techniques to reframe your emotions and thoughts around sleep. You will learn relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to help you fall asleep. You may also promote restfulness with progressive muscle relaxation and other therapeutic techniques.
  • Get treatment for sleep disorders: If you're suffering from sleep disorders, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about treatment so you can get better rest. Good sleep is important. Sleep disorders may include those that are common among cancer patients, including insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, or restless legs syndrome, but other disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, should be addressed as well to improve your sleep quality and quality of life.

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.

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