If you're a cancer patient or caregiver, you know how difficult it can be to get a good night's sleep.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, 67% of cancer patients have difficulty sleeping. We know all too well that cancer doesn’t just affect us. The people who love us — who often become our caregivers — often find a good night’s rest is elusive.
But even if you can't get a full eight hours of sleep, getting quality sleep can make a big difference in mood and energy levels, plus it helps reduce anxiety.
The Importance of Sleep for Cancer Patients and Caregivers
If you are wondering if sleep issues are common among cancer patients. Yes, you are not alone.
In fact, side effects from cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, are known sleep disruptors. This is especially true for people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and those who are undergoing treatment.
The thing is, not getting enough sleep can lead to serious problems for people with cancer, including lower quality of life, depression, and the inability to carry out regular day-to-day activities, according to the CDC. You can go a day without eating, but if you go without sleep, you will find it hard to do anything.
Rest is crucial to our long-term survival. We need sleep to feel well, get well, and stay well.
It is the number one most important thing we need to prevent and heal from any and all dis-ease. Without proper rest, our body and our immune system can’t function, and we need these both strong to fight off pathogens, viruses, and cancer cells.
Sleep problems don't just affect cancer patients.
Studies reported that 72% of family caregivers experience sleep disturbances. The most common is interrupted sleep due to waking up to care for the patient; however, other aspects of caregiving -- including stress, depression, and fatigue all play a role.
Lack of sleep is also detrimental to our mental health. A study by the University of California Berkeley found that lack of sleep can increase your anxiety by up to 30 percent the following day— and the longer you go without sleep, the more anxious you'll become.
Tips For Improving Sleep Quality For Cancer Patients and Caregivers
Here are some of our favorite sleepy-time rituals.
- Take a warm bath or shower to wind down from the day. Try using organic lavender-scented soap or lotion, which research has shown helps reduce stress levels by slowing the activity of the central nervous system.
- Avoid caffeine before after 12 p.m. It can disrupt your sleep patterns. The same goes for alcohol, which we suggest cutting out altogether.
- Avoid working or using electronic devices in bed. The blue light from screens can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be. Keep it cool by turning down the temperature between 60°F and 67°F.
- Try relaxation techniques before bedtime, such as yoga or meditation. These activities help you clear your mind to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly throughout the night. We love these nighttime meditations from Life Hack.
- Get regular exercise, but avoid doing it too close to bedtime. Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Exercise helps with circulation and keeps your energy levels up, which can help you get better sleep. But it also produces endorphins, hormones that make us feel good. So if you're feeling anxious or stressed about your cancer or caregiving situation, exercising can help release some of that tension and promote relaxation.
- Stretching is a great way to wind down in the evenings and prepare for sleep. Incorporating gentle stretching into your nightly routine will help relax your body and mind before bedtime. Focus on slowly stretching each muscle group in the arms, shoulders, neck, and back to give your body an overall relaxation boost.
- Write down your worries: Take a few minutes before bed to write down your worries. This can help you clear your thoughts and identify solutions for them.
- Practice mindfulness: Spend 10 minutes each night focusing on something calming. This could be breathing exercises, reading a book, or listening to soothing music.
- Schedule time for your thoughts: Allow yourself an allotted time each day to think through your concerns and worries. This allows you to process negative emotions without keeping you up at night.
- Talk it out with someone supportive: Reach out to a trusted friend or family member who will listen without judgment as you express how you’re feeling— this could be a beneficial way to release emotions or brainstorm solutions.
Medication and Supplements for Better Sleep
If you are being treated for cancer, you may take medications that interfere with sleep. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about what you can do to reduce this side effect. Your doctor may be able to adjust your dose or switch medications. If medications are not an option, there are natural supplements that can help.
- Melatonin is one of the most popular natural supplements for better sleep. It’s a hormone produced in the brain that helps the body prepare for sleep and regulate its circadian rhythm—also known as our body’s internal clock.
- Valerian root is another popular supplement that reduces stress, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Other supplements such as magnesium, chamomile, and lavender may also help promote deep, restful sleep.
It's important to research before selecting any supplement for better sleep, as some may interact with other medications you're taking. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before starting any herbal supplement regimen.
Read about how our co-founder and cancer survivor, Aidan, changed her sleep patterns while undergoing treatment here.