Managing Insomnia In Cancer Patients – Although many people usually have trouble falling asleep at night, cancer patients suffer the most from insomnia. Some causes of insomnia in cancer patients include:
- Stress, worry, depression or anxiety
- The side of effects of the chemotherapy or radiation
- Pain and sickness resulting from cancer
If insomnia is left untreated, it can interfere with your everyday life. It increases fatigue, lowers energy level, causes memory and concentration problems, and even leads to psychiatric disorders.
Luckily, there are several tips and approaches cancer patients can use to treat their insomnia. But before we can mention these tips, let have a deeper understanding of sleep problems in cancer patients.
Sleep Problems (Insomnia) in the Cancer Patient
Cancer patients take steroids as part of their cancer treatment. These steroids can alter their sleep patterns.
Steroids like dexamethasone, which might be prescribed to control the side effects of chemotherapy, can leave you feeling energized, meaning you can’t sleep. Work with your doctor to receive your steroids in the morning to help reduce its effect on your sleep.
- Hormone treatment
Other cancer medications do not affect your sleep cycle directly, but their side effects will prevent you from sleeping. Most hormonal therapies for prostate and breast cancer cause hot flashes and sweats, which might keep you awake at night.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Both radiation and chemotherapy can cause cell death, which leads to molecular changes resulting to sleep disruption and fatigue. Many other cancer drugs used with these therapies can alter your sleep cycle as well.
Symptoms of cancer
There more than 100 types of cancer that have so many symptoms that can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. The symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot flushes
- Cancer comer
- Peripheral neuropathy
By addressing each of these symptoms, you can significantly reduce your insomnia. There are several ways (both medication and non-medication) that can help you reduce these symptoms, thus improving your sleep.
Other medical conditions
Medical conditions besides cancer can also cause insomnia. Conditions which strongly relate to insomnia include:
- Sleep apnea–this is a common condition characterized by short periods of breath during the night. The best way to ease the symptoms of this condition is by using a quality mattress and an sleep apnea pillow.
- Thyroid problems – these are common in cancer patients and might occur due to immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and others.
Now that you know that other medications can contribute to your insomnia, don’t dismiss any symptom as being caused by cancer. Sometimes you need to step back enough to look for out-of-place factors if you want to understand the cause of insomnia.
Common emotions resulting from cancer diagnoses like worry and anxiety can affect your ability to sleep at night.
Most cancer patients worry about the disease, medication, and the disruption it has caused to both their work and family. This can trigger the release of stress hormones, resulting in stress and anxiety that can persist throughout the life of the cancer diagnosis.
Apart from stress, there is a fear of recurrence or progression if the cancer isn’t stable. There’s also the fear of death if cancer becomes chronic.
Even though you might manage to sleep at night, depression can make you wake up at night. You might not go back to sleep again, and that can be frustrating.
Manage your emotion by talking to your doctor, family members, or seek counseling.
Using Sleeping Tablets
If insomnia becomes very difficult and starts affecting your daily life, your doctor might prescribe sleeping tablets. However, the tablets are only meant for short-term use since they can have side effects.
If you think you need tablets, talk to your doctors. They will help you in selecting the right tablets for your situation. Some sleep medications the doctor might prescribe include:
- Zolpidem tartrate
Using behavioral therapies
Behavioral therapies will help you adjust the way you think and behave before going to bed. Behavioral therapies include:
- Sleep restriction
Sleep restriction focuses on helping you to go to bed at a specific time, usually not the normal time you would go to sleep. This helps you get consistent amounts of good deep sleep at night.
- Stimulus control
Some individuals with insomnia have a strong mental connection with their bed/bedroom and not with sleeping. Stimulus control therapy helps to break this connection by forcing you to only use the bed/bedroom for sleeping.
So if you lie awake at night worrying to excess is the problem, this therapy suggests you may find success in another room trying something different until you get tired. So you only spend a limited time sleeping, which results to sleep deprivation and leads to more efficient sleep.
- Cognitive therapy
This therapy identifies and adjusts your attitudes and belief towards sleep and insomnia, which might be leading to the development of anxiety. The beliefs can include the role of sleep on the disturbance in daytime impairment and unrealistic sleep requirements.
It involves adopting a bedtime routine and health practices that may help to improve your sleep: This includes:
- Avoiding coffee 4 to 6 hours before going to bed
- Using the bed for coitus and sleeping only
- Removing the TV from the bedroom
- Taking a warm shower before going to bed to relax tense muscles. You can also do yoga each day to reduce muscle tension.
- Using an advanced pillow and a quality mattress to improve your sleep quality.
- Reading a book, listening to music or drinking lavender or chamomile tea.
- Creating a healthy sleeping environment; dark, comfortable, and cool.
Q/A related to this topic
Why is insomnia common in cancer patients?
There are many causes of insomnia in a cancer patient. The common ones include:
- Stress, anxiety or depression
- Other medical condition like sleep apnea
- Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy
Which drugs or medications affect sleep?
- Steroids like dexamethasone
- Drugs used for hormone therapies
- Amphetamines for ADHD
- Albuterol for cancer
Tips for managing insomnia in cancer patients
- Avoid taking caffeine and spicy food before going to bed
- Create a healthy sleeping environment
- Consider getting a sleeping mask and a new pillow
- Avoid drinks or smoking 8 hours before going to bed
- Limit your day naps to only 20 or 30 minutes
- Exercise regularly during the day
- Consider doing some yoga
Insomnia might be a common issue among cancer patients, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be managed. If you don’t want to suffer from the side effects of insomnia, it’s prime time you adopt healthy sleeping practices to improve your sleep. Also, attempt to discuss with your doctors about other alternative solutions you can use.