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Tips for sleeping better during cancer treatment

October 20, 2016 | by CTCA

Sleep
Getting a restful night’s sleep is important even for the healthiest of people. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), getting enough sleep is vital to physical health, brain function, mental well-being, quality of life and more.

Getting a restful night’s sleep is important even for the healthiest of people. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), getting enough sleep is vital to physical health, brain function, mental well-being, quality of life and more. While many Americans find themselves counting sheep at some point in their lives, insomnia may be especially debilitating for cancer patients, often leading to fatigue, mood disturbances, physical impacts like headaches and other pain, and in some cases, immune deficiencies, according to some studies. Specifically, a 2015 study found that the breast and prostate cancer patients surveyed had an increased risk of chronic sleep disturbances following certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The 2015 study above underscores what many in the cancer community know firsthand: Trouble sleeping is a common problem for cancer patients. The NIH estimates that between a third and a half of all cancer patients have difficulty sleeping through the night. Considering insomnia’s potential consequences on patients’ health and stamina during and after treatment, it is important to find a care plan that addresses sleep disturbances.

Tips for a better sleep

Kristen Trukova, a Clinical Oncology Dietitian at our hospital near Chicago, recommends these tips to help cancer patients get a good night’s sleep:

  • Restrict caffeine intake: Limit your caffeine intake to the morning. Keep in mind that after six hours, half the caffeine you consumed will still be in your bloodstream. After 12 hours, some  caffeine will still be affecting you. While caffeine tolerance varies, it stays in your system longer than you may realize.

  • Limit alcohol consumption: Having a cocktail may help you fall asleep quickly, but studies have found that alcohol disrupts the body’s ability to stay asleep and achieve a restful slumber. Alcohol reduces rapid-eye-movement, or REM, and deep sleep stages. This often leads to a lighter and more wakeful sleep, leaving you tired the following day. Also, the more you drink, the more likely your sleep is to be affected.   

  • Work out: Exercise has been found to improve sleep patterns. Just 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week—the amount of exercise the American Cancer Society recommends for cancer survivors—has been shown in some studies to help the body get a more restful sleep. Consider walking, which may be an easy way to increase physical activity, and a good way to sleep better, Trukova says.

  • Reduce stress: Many people lay down to fall asleep, only to find their minds racing, processing the day and worrying about the next day. Consider keeping a journal, especially before bedtime,to express what’s bothering you, or writing a to-do list for the following day to help clear your mind and prepare you for rest.

  • Drink healthy amounts of fluids: It’s important to drink enough fluids daily, but too much before bed may increase night-time wakefulness. Try to reduce your fluid intake two to three hours before bed to avoid the need to get up during the night.

  • Set a sleep schedule: Keeping the same sleep/wake times through the week may improve sleep by keeping your biological clock consistent. Based on your sleep cycle, the body releases hormones that encourage sleepiness and wakefulness at certain times.