Getting a restful night’s sleep is a challenge
Pain from cancer itself, fatigue and discomfort from chemotherapy, and medication side effects are a few of the things that make sleep elusive for survivors
So whenever I come across a sleeping puppy that just seems to be able to drop off anywhere, I get very jealous!
Not getting enough sleep weakens our immune system and can exacerbate symptoms or negative side effects. An increasing amount of research has found links between poor sleep and several cancers. Below is a copy of advice that came to me from America: I make use of the official US websites (details below) because I find their advice very user-friendly.
Does lack of sleep cause cancer?
Regularly getting a good night’s sleep is an essential part of your overall health. While sleep itself has not been deemed a causal factor for cancers, researchers have associated certain sleep disorders with an increased risk of cancer. The three main sleep issues correlated with cancer are chronic sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder.
Sleep deprivation and cancer
Most of us find lack of sleep worsens our mood, increases fatigue, and reduces ability to concentrate. Chronic sleep deprivation (getting less than sufficient sleep over a sustained period of time, usually 7 to 8 hours for adults) is associated with:
- Poorer memory and cognitive processing skills
- Weakened immune system
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Increased irritability and higher risk for depression
- Poorer judgment
Some studies have linked sleep deprivation with increased cancer risk. Be aware of these, but so far nothing is definite. However, there are some conclusions from recent trials, and it seems that
- Men with insomnia were twice as likely to develop prostate cancer, according to a 2014 study that followed more than 2,000 men over a five-year timeframe.
- Individuals who averaged fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night (below the recommended amount of 7 to 8 hours) had a 50 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to a 2010 study.
- Lack of sleep is correlated with more aggressive forms of breast cancer, according to a 2012 study of postmenopausal women. They found that breast cancer patients who regularly slept fewer hours of sleep tended to have more aggressive forms than women who slept longer.
But Mrs. Thatcher and Winston Churchill were reputed to survive on much less sleep. And both lived to a ripe old age.
How does cancer affect sleep?
Between 30 to 75 percent of people receiving cancer treatment have some sleep problems and about 25 percent of cancer survivors continue to have issues sleeping. Lung cancer patients tend to report the most sleep problems.
The side effects of cancer and treatment cause a host of issues that can make falling and staying asleep more difficult. Individuals with cancer may have increased anxiety and depression, two conditions that go hand-in-hand with insomnia. Extensive treatment can cause excessive fatigue and cancer-related sleep disorders. Hot flushes and night sweats are common side effects that make it challenging to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.
Generally, the three largest sleep issues affecting cancer patients are insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and restless legs syndrome.
Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue are highly correlated with insomnia. In one study of cancer patients, those who reported fatigue were 2.5 times more likely to also have insomnia.
While fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness are clinically distinct, they can feel similar to the individual living with them. Fatigue refers to a feeling of low energy and exhaustion, which often causes the individual to seek napping as a way of relief. As alluded to above, fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Individuals undergoing radiotherapy reported nearly double the amount of fatigue after receiving radiotherapy than before treatment. Fortunately, the fatigue returned to normal levels after a period of months.
As antiemetic medications are prescribed to reduce symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, they may introduce new sleep-related symptoms of their own, like excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). EDS describes a sense of drowsiness that lingers throughout the day, even after adequate sleep. While EDS is different than fatigue, sufferers seek relief in similar ways: napping. If the individual naps for too long, it makes it much harder for them to fall asleep at night, creating a negative cycle of insomnia.
Tips for getting better sleep when you have cancer
Getting sufficient sleep on a consistent basis improves your mood and your cognitive functioning, and it keeps your immune system strong. If you have cancer or care for someone who does, some of the following therapies or products may help you get more quality sleep.
Therapeutic approaches to better sleep for cancer patients
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT involves techniques that help the patient reframe their emotions and thoughts around sleep. Patients learn relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercise to quiet racing thoughts and help them fall asleep. They may also practice stimulus control techniques, which limit the time spent in bed and retrain the mind to see the bed as only for sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing the muscles in an ordered fashion that promotes restfulness.
Sleep restriction therapy
Sleep restriction therapy is another behavioral technique used to addressed insomnia. Individuals decide on a set sleep and wake schedule, and adhere to that no matter what. They don’t take naps during the day, and are only allowed to spend the allocated time in bed, regardless of whether they sleep the whole time. Ideally, eventually their daytime fatigue disappears and the individual trains their body to sleep during the scheduled time frame.
Light therapy employs light boxes, tables, or specialized lamps to help individuals who have an offset circadian clock, whether due to shift work, jet lag, or blindness. The individual sits in front of the light device for a set amount of time in the morning or afternoon, depending on how their circadian cycle is offset. A current clinical trial is testing the effectiveness of light therapy eyeglasses to help lung cancer patients who suffer from insomnia and fatigue.
Sleep products for cancer patients
Cancer patients who experience night sweats or postmenopausal breast cancer patients with hot flashes often have difficulty staying asleep due to overheating. Mattresses with superior temperature regulation, such as innerspring mattresses and airbeds, stay cooler than memory foam mattresses that envelop the body.
Patients can also purchase cooling pillows for the home and to take with them to chemotherapy appointments. These pillows are made with more breathable materials—like moisture-wicking wool and gel-infused foam—which are designed to stay cool all night.
White noise machines
White noise machines, available as standalone devices or as smartphone apps, play static white noise, nature sounds, or calming melodies designed to soothe one to sleep. They’re often used by individuals with insomnia. There are even travel-size versions to take with you to chemotherapy. Just make sure you pick a different white noise playlist that you can associate with relaxation, as opposed to sleep. You don’t want to accidentally induce a midday nap.
There are many anti-snoring products that help keep the airways open and enable the sleeper to breathe properly throughout the night. Anti-snoring mouthpieces fit between the teeth to reduce symptoms, and nasal vents fit in the nostrils. For individuals with extreme sleep apnea, continuous positive air pressures (CPAP) machines are recommended.
Practice good sleep hygiene – going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day, reserving the bedroom for sleep and sex only, and avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, alcohol, and intense exercise in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Keep the bedroom cool and dark
Follow a bedtime routine
- The American Cancer Society offers a 24-hour helpline (800-227-2345) and Live Chat, as well as online support communities, local support groups, volunteer events, and research.
- The National Cancer Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health. As the largest funder of cancer research globally, NCI publishes research and shares training for doctors and health professionals
- Founded by testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, the Livestrong Foundationprovides online resources and community support programs, as well as one-on-one personalized care plans and support for patients and caregivers.
- The Cancer subreddit connects cancer patients, survivors, and loved ones with each other to share stories, news, and support. There are also many subreddits devoted to specific forms of cancer.
- The Cancer Forums claim over 50,000 members of cancer patients and survivors, loved ones, and caregivers. The site hosts over 20 forums dedicated to specific types of cancer.
For breast cancer:
- Well known for making the pink ribbon symbol ubiquitous, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is the largest breast cancer organization in the United States. They host Race for the Cure fundraising events and offer a helpline available during weekday hours ((877-465-6636).
- The BreastCancer.org Community is an online forum of nearly 200,000 members, including current patients, caregivers, survivors, and family members affected by breast cancer.
For prostate cancer:
- The Prostate Cancer Foundation is the largest organization focused on funding prostate cancer research and connecting patients with treatment centers and clinical trials.
- ZERO works to provide education, financial assistance, and free case management to men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The organization also hosts fundraising walk/run events.