Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Sleep disturbances

Many people living with cancer commonly experience sleep disturbances or insomnia (chronic sleeplessness). Certain cancer treatments and medications may cause side effects like nausea, pain, anxiety and depression, that can contribute to insomnia.

Insomnia can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. For instance, you may awaken multiple times during the night, or early in the morning, and not be able to get back to sleep. This condition can lead to fatigue, memory and concentration problems, and mood disturbances.

Treatment for insomnia may include pharmacological approaches, such as pain medication, as well as non-pharmacological approaches.

Tips for managing sleep disturbances/insomnia

  • Sleep in a dark, cool, quiet room. Sleep on a comfortable bed with clean, dry sheets, adequate bedcovers for warmth and pillows for support.
  • Avoid too much fluid intake before bedtime to avoid waking up frequently to use the bathroom.
  • Wear loose, soft, comfortable clothes to bed.
  • If you can’t fall asleep, or if you waken and can't fall back to sleep after 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and return when sleepy.
  • Do not watch television, eat or read in bed. Use the bedroom for sleep and sexual activities only.
  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Develop a pre-bedtime ritual to relax and get yourself ready for sleep.
  • Do not take long naps (more than 30 minutes) during the day or nap too late in the afternoon (after 3 p.m.).
  • Move your clock away from your bed so you can avoid looking at it during the night.
  • Try a high-protein snack two hours before bedtime (e.g., milk, turkey, etc.)
  • Take a warm bath or have a warm glass of milk or cup of chamomile tea at bedtime.
  • Read a book or listen to music to relax before going to bed.
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine late in the day (four to six hours before bedtime).
  • Exercise regularly (e.g., 15-20 minutes three times a week).
  • During the day, try different ways to reduce stress, such as relaxation techniques, deep breathing, stretching, meditation and massage.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.