Have Cancer And Can’t Sleep?

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel with insert by Becky Stewart, RN, The Cancer Nurse

Sleep becomes an issue, for sure, when going through cancer treatment. It seems to follow us through in life, especially if menopause kicks in (for women) as a result of chemotherapy. However, I know men also have this problem depending on their treatment and resulting lifestyle changes.

Even, after all these years, sleep can still evade me. Here are some ways I have found to make this a less prevalent problem without prescription sleeping pills, although early on in my healing, I did use a very low dose sleeping pill to break the pattern of no sleep. I definitely did not use them on a regular basis.

This was for good reason. During treatment, lorazapam was prescribed for anxiety to take before chemotherapy treatments. In 1990, there were no anti-nausea pills. I started to notice that I was having problems with simple math – a flag that something was off because math was my best subject in school. Turns out, lorazapam is valium. It took me three weeks of very minimal sleep to wean off these pills and I swore I would never do that again. However, it did allow me to sleep so I could heal – a trade off at that time.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

1.    Herbal sleep remedies – valerian/chamomile teas or capsules
2.    Qi-gong and Tai Chi before bed.  Calms the breathing and hence the mind
3.    No caffeine after lunch or no caffeine if you can.
4.    Fresh air and exercise.
5.    Music
6.    Quiet time

And if all else fails, I simply get up and read until I’m tired, then go back to bed.

Here is a wonderful article by Becky Stewart, a registered cancer nurse, offering her perspective from 37 years of working with cancer patients.

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Have Cancer And Can’t Sleep?
By Becky Stewart, RN, Cancer Nurse

When you have cancer there are many reasons that sleep is difficult, yet it is so important. During sleep, the body is able to heal and regenerate most effectively.

Causes of Sleeplessness

Causes of sleeplessness, when you are dealing with cancer, are fairly self evident. You may have trouble shutting off your mind, you have many thoughts of: what if, what now, how can it be, and a million other things. You may be overtired, you may be on steroids (which can cause sleeplessness on their own), you may have your days and nights mixed up (too long or too many naps during the day), or you may not be getting enough exercise.


I know when I tell people they need exercise I get a lot of dirty looks. I do understand you may be fatigued (plain old tired) and I also know that exercise can be helpful in relieving that tiredness. Cancer nurses and patients have known that exercise gives people a sense of well being. So there have been studies done on the effects of exercise during cancer and cancer treatment. These have proven that 10 to 20 minutes of exercise every day or every other day help people feel better and improve people’s outlook on life and may help you sleep better.


When you have cancer, naps are tempting for sure, and of course, you may nap. Here are hints for not getting your days and night mixed up. Your bed is for night time, if you can, nap on the couch or in a comfortable chair this is better for you. It will help you remember you are napping, not going for a long sleep. A nap is just an hour or two of rest not a marathon sleep. When you are tired, try sitting at an activity. This may be watching TV, reading, crafting, or visiting with friends and family.


If you are taking steroids as part of your cancer treatment and they are keeping you awake, talk to your oncology doctor.  Your doctor is very aware of this problem. The doctor may prescribe a sleeping medication. You may want to try some of these suggestions in addition to sleeping medications. Don’t give up, there is help for you.

Shutting Your Mind Off

Shutting your mind off from the thoughts of dealing with cancer that keep you awake, or wake you up after just a short time sleeping can be a real problem. It may take awhile to find what will work for you. Some people find that a routine before bed helps. A shower or a bath, a cup of chamomile tea, or warm milk along with a set bedtime has worked for many people.

Set a Time for Worry

Another thing to try is to set a time earlier in the day to worry and fret about your cancer. This may sound silly but it works for some people. Make this time useful by listing what you are worrying about. Then find ideas that will make these problems smaller. Your ideas for solutions can be silly; humor can ease stress all by itself. Laughter is a wonderful thing.

Use of Worry Time

During your worrying time make a point of being positive, this may be difficult at first, when you are dealing with cancer but, it does get easier with practice. Plan for your future after cancer during your worrying time. Take care of things that need to be taken care of.  This will make your list of worries smaller. And give you the satisfaction of accomplishment.

When Sleep Is Interrupted

If you fall asleep then awaken at night, try getting up out of bed. While you are up try reading, do crossword puzzles, watch TV and my favorite praying. When we pray we are turning our troubles over to the Lord, He is the One who can take care of everything in the best possible way.

Cancer causes the feeling that you are out of control but you can control how you react to this “loss of control.”

Remember that cancer counseling is available and can be very helpful. Talk to people at cancer support groups about what helps them sleep and share what works for you.

Cancer is a bump in the road of your life’s journey. You didn’t plan for it but it doesn’t have to be all there is in your life.


About the Author
Becky Stewart is a registered nurse with 37 years experience, specializing in cancer nursing. She offers advice, guidance and support for cancer patients and their loved ones.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Becky_Stewart

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