cancer treatment can lead to sleep issues

Why do cancer patients have trouble sleeping?

The effects of cancer and cancer treatment can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, and they can degrade the quality of your sleep. And poor sleep can degrade your quality of life. An OSF HealthCare sleep medicine specialist has provided some important things to know about sleep and cancer.

Is sleep good for cancer patients?

Without proper sleep, your body and mind have a harder time doing just about everything, including fighting off cancer and recovering from the harsh treatments.

“Sleep is an essential part of everybody’s health,” said Kaninika Verma, MD, a sleep medicine specialist with OSF HealthCare. “Quantity and quality are both important when it comes to sleep. It aids in the healing process. Good sleep is essential for our overall well-being and health.”

If you aren’t getting proper rest, don’t shrug it off and ignore the problem, especially if you are being treated for cancer.

“We see a lot of people with cancer having sleep issues that need to be addressed,” Dr. Verma said.

People who have been diagnosed with cancer can face a lot of stress, which can lead to depression and anxiety, which then can cause difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep.

Some people also suffer from sleep issues due to their cancer medication. They have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting restful sleep.

“It’s about how much you are sleeping and the quality of the sleep,” Dr. Verma said. “Some medications can cause issues with the quality of sleep. And if you have sleep breathing troubles like sleep apnea, it can make all this even worse.”

Do cancer patients sleep a lot?

Some people sleep too much due to their medication.

Sleep disorders can have so many different possible causes, and sleep can impact every other aspect of a person’s health. That’s why Dr. Verma treats sleep disorders using a multidisciplinary approach that relies on working with other specialists to benefit from their specialized expertise.

Best sleeping pills for cancer patients?

Every case is unique, which calls for a personalized plan for every patient. It starts with a sleep evaluation. Then you may work with a psychologist to develop healthy sleeping techniques, or you may need some sort of medical treatment.

There are prescription options and over-the-counter sleep medications available. There aren’t any created specifically for cancer patients, though. So you need to speak with your care provider about the possibility of using medications to help treat sleep issues like insomnia and restless legs syndrome.

Best sleeping position for cancer patients?

Cancer treatments, like radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can cause severe side effects, and those side effects can make it more difficult to sleep.

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If you’re nauseous, try elevating your head while you sleep.

If weight gain is disrupting your sleep, try using a body pillow to give you more options to find a comfortable sleep position.

Here are some good sleep behaviors you can adopt in your daily life to help you fall and stay asleep, courtesy of Dr. Verma.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep per day – The adult body needs that much sleep to do its daily maintenance and recharge.
  • No screens an hour before bed – The blue light from electronic screens makes it harder to shut your mind down.
  • Have a routine sleep schedule – Condition your brain to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Practice mindfulness – There are a lot of online apps to help with mental relaxation techniques.

If you aren’t getting good sleep, speak to your cancer care team about a possible referral to a sleep specialist.

Last Updated: November 15, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Brain & Spine, Cancer