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Trouble Sleeping? Tips for a Restful Sleep When Going Through Cancer Treatment

March 16, 2023

Sleep is an important part of staying healthy, enabling the body to refresh and rebuild at the end of the day. A lack of sleep can raise the risk of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, affecting concentration and memory, and causing other issues like depression and the inability to participate in regular daily activities.

Sleep problems can become an issue of concern for cancer patients. It is common for patients to feel very tired during and after cancer treatment. And while they feel tired, there are a number of factors that can affect their ability to get good, restorative sleep nightly such as:

  • Pain
  • Side effects from treatments or medications
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Feelings of anxiety or stress

Having a good sleep routine, also known as sleep hygiene, is an important habit to establish. And if sleeping – or the lack thereof – is becoming a concern, patients should always speak to their physician to determine the causes of sleep problems and ways to sleep better at night.

Stacey C. Muhammad, M.D., palliative medicine physician at Texas Oncology–Deke Slayton Cancer Center and The Woodlands, addresses the importance of a good night’s sleep and challenges cancer patients face when it comes to sleep.

Why is a good night's sleep important for cancer patients?

A good night’s sleep is important for cancer patients because they are going through a very physically challenging time. Receiving chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and immunotherapy can be hard on the body due to various side effects, so it is imperative that patients have the proper rest, which ideally would be at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily.

What kind of sleep problems are common in people undergoing cancer treatment?

Having cancer and going through treatment can greatly affect the quality of sleep. Many patients complain of increased difficulty with staying asleep throughout the night, which is often a result of uncontrolled pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, and night sweats. I often recommend a sleep aid or prescription medication because patients sometimes are not able to sleep any longer than 2-3 hours at a time.

How can sleep problems be managed?

Patients can start with an over-the-counter sleep aid, such as Melatonin or Chamomile herbal tea. If this doesn’t help, there are a variety of prescription medications that can help. Medicinal cannabis, also known as cannabidiol or CBD, may also help manage side effects of cancer including insomnia. While this form of medication varies per state, Texas patients are encouraged to talk to their provider to determine if CBD is right for them.

“I can’t fall asleep” — any helpful tips to offer?

Sleep hygiene is very important. Make sure you are not engaging in any stimulating activities before bedtime, consuming caffeine, or using electronic devices, such as TV or smart phones. Try to have a quiet and dark atmosphere in your bedroom at bedtime and strive to get to bed at the same time each night.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.