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A good night's sleep is important for everyone. If you have cancer, quality sleep can be a challenge. Many people with cancer experience sleep disturbances, such as insomnia (chronic sleeplessness).
Sleep disorders can occur in individuals with all types of cancer, particularly those with head and neck, lung, breast, and advanced cancer.
Sleep consists of two phases, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep, which occur in a repeated cycle. REM sleep is the phase of sleep in which the brain is active, and is also known as dream sleep. NREM sleep is the quiet or restful phase of sleep. Aside from insomnia, sleep disorders can include disorders of the sleep-wake cycle, partial waking, excessive drowsiness, or sleep-disordered breathing.
People with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, and/or sleeping soundly. Insomnia may persist for less than a week, a week to a month, or more than a month (chronic insomnia).
With insomnia, 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 problems during the day, such as fatigue, memory and concentration problems, and irritability.
The following are some common symptoms of insomnia:
There are many potential causes of insomnia for people living with cancer. A personal or family history of insomnia, the presence of a depression or anxiety disorder, and advanced age are all factors that can contribute to insomnia. Sleep disorders may also be caused by the effects of tumor growth, cancer treatments, certain medications, poor sleep habits, overnight hospital stays, and the psychological impact of cancer.
In addition, the following side effects of certain cancer treatments/medications can contribute to insomnia:
Because it can arise from several different causes, it can be difficult to diagnose insomnia. Your doctor may take your medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may ask about your sleep habits, exercise regime, current medications, use of caffeine or alcohol, sleep environment, and psychological well being. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Psychological tests, blood tests, and sleep tests (e.g., polysomnogram) may also help your doctor determine possible causes.
Treatment of sleep disturbances like insomnia aims to identify and treat the underlying cause. Treatment may involve a combination of non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches. The use of sleep medications is usually used on a short-term or intermittent basis only. Sometimes treating the cancer itself and the side effects of cancer treatment, as well as any comorbidities, may resolve the sleep disturbance. Another way to manage insomnia is a change in medication, treatment regime, or sleep environment/habits.
Some non-pharmacologic treatments include cognitive behavior therapy (to identify and change thoughts and behaviors that interfere with sleep), stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction procedures, relaxation techniques, and naturopathic therapies. In addition, behavioral management strategies, such as establishing a sleep routine may help. Another way to promote better sleep is to make lifestyle changes, including managing stress, anxiety and fatigue.
Sleep is important for your physical and emotional health, especially if you are fighting cancer. Sleep disturbances can negatively impact your cancer treatment regime and your quality of life. For instance, poor sleep can make other cancer-related symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, worse. This may make it difficult for you to continue treatment. Sleep disruptions can also reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. Chronic insomnia can cause fatigue, irritability, concentration problems, depression, and anxiety. It can also affect your ability to cope with cancer treatment, complete daily tasks, and maintain your relationships with others.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS REPORT ANY SLEEP DISTURBANCES TO YOUR PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.
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 HEALTHCARE PROVIDER REGARDING SLEEP DISTURBANCES.
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