When Sleep Is Elusive


By Abby Henry, Oncology Content Manager, PearlPoint Cancer Support | June 2016

A lot of cancer patients and people in general have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. However, sleep is very important, especially during cancer treatment to promote healing. If you are having trouble sleeping, the first thing to do is figure out what is at the root of your difficulty sleeping—stress and anxiety, side effects, lack of peaceful sleeping environment? Once you know what is making sleep elusive, try one or more of these five strategies to help you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

Take care of your emotional well-being.
Many cancer survivors struggle with anxiety and depression before, during, and after treatment. Reach out to other cancer survivors. It can be very therapeutic to talk to someone who has walked in your shoes. You can connect with a fellow survivor individually or try a support group. Many organizations such as The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Cancer Support Community and the American Cancer Society offer support groups all over the country. The treatment center you visit may also host support groups.

If you are finished with treatment, you may be struggling with fear of recurrence, which many cancer survivors also experience. Visit My PearlPoint to learn strategies for dealing with fear of recurrence.

If you find that your anxiety or depression is making it difficult to function in your daily life (or severely affecting your sleep), you may need individual counseling from a medical professional. Talk to your healthcare team. Let them know how you are feeling and ask for a referral.

Manage side effects.
If you are experiencing side effects such as nausea or pain that’s keeping you up at night, learn how to manage these side effects. Most side effects can be managed by adjusting the foods you eat and your daily habits. Learn strategies for managing side effects on My PearlPoint.

Get your sleep routine down pat.
Create a good sleep routine that you follow every night to let your body know it’s time for rest. Your sleep routine can be customized for your likes and dislikes. Some things you might try— put all electronics away 30 minutes before bed, go to sleep at the same time every night, take a long, warm bath or shower before bed with lavender body wash, or drink a glass of warm milk or decaffeinated tea.

Create a peaceful sleep environment.
Make your bedroom as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Do not sleep with the TV on, and silence your cell phone. Turn out all the lights and use curtains that block light from outside. If you’ve been using the same mattress and pillows for years, it may be time to invest in new ones. Use a fan or white noise machine to drown out other distracting sounds. Even though we love our furry friends, it may be best for pets to sleep outside the bedroom so they don’t accidentally wake you up.

Talk to your healthcare team.
If none of the above strategies work, talk to your healthcare team. Your doctor may recommend prescription medications or altering the dosages of medications you already take. However, do not take any new medications or stop taking prescribed medications without consulting your doctor first.

For more ideas to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, visit My PearlPoint.

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