One of my biggest life changes post-diagnosis was how I viewed my sleep. Before cancer (BC as we call it) I didn’t worry much about sleep – I didn’t need it! Or so I thought. In my 20s I could stay out until 2:00am and wake up at 6:30am for work, no problem. When my babies were born, I took all the night feeds and diaper changes because I was a “morning person” and required little sleep to function. If there was an option to do something, ANYTHING over sleep, sleep lost. All that changed when I began my cancer treatment.
Just as I was about to start chemo my good friend, already 2 months ahead of me in her healing journey, gave me a rundown of everything I needed to know. Something she kept repeating was “you need to rest. You need to sleep.” She told me to try and nap every day and to make sure I was setting aside at least nine hours for uninterrupted sleep. I finally stopped fighting it and acknowledged: my body needs sleep.
Why? Sleep is the only time your body can truly heal, regenerate and repair itself. Treatment and cancer are a burden on your body. They cause stress and introduce toxicity to your organs, tissue and bones. Supplements, intermittent fasting and drinking lots of water can all help minimize those consequences, but none as much as sleep.
I considered cancer treatment my new full-time job. I worked so hard for my career, why would I not do the same for my life? So, I treated each day as a workday, but instead of meetings and presentations my day was filled with appointments, healing modalities, and SLEEP!
My children were all young when I was diagnosed and still napping every day. In our 3-bedroom house that meant our oldest would sleep in our bed while her siblings slept in their rooms. That meant I had a 5-year-old nap companion every day. Something I thought I was going to dread I ended up loving! My daughter and I had a little pre-nap ritual of laughter and cuddles, then we would both pass out for 2 hours. We didn’t miss a day for five months.
I also completely overhauled my evening sleep routine. First, I set a bedtime. I had to be in my bedroom by 9:00 pm. I would drink my Organifi Gold nighttime tea, do some light stretches and then hop into bed. I would allow myself 10 minutes of phone time, but that was it. Truthfully, I should have cut it out altogether. I’d turn my white noise on and do deep, slow breathing to help calm my mind. There would be spells where I would try and try, but sleep would not come. If I was in a rough patch, I would take something: tinctures, melatonin, sleep gummies or an over-the-counter sleep aid. Not my first choice, but I realized I needed sleep to heal, to feel well and to fight.
You thought I was done? There’s more! I also started to sleep in. My husband was a trooper and started taking the kids in the morning (poor bastard still does). Having him home and on the kids meant my body was allowed to sleep as long as it needed. I woke up when I was ready and rested, not when the alarm said I had to – a true luxury.
Surprisingly (read my sarcasm), my body does need sleep – and lots of it. My body was able to complete one and a half years of chemotherapy, two years of immunotherapy and six surgeries. Now, sleep is one of the most prized and prioritized things in my life. My current bedtime routine still mirrors my exact routine during my treatment regimen - and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I feel great and it’s working!
Here are some great books on understanding why we need sleep and tips for a routine: