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How to sleep better with cancer

If you’re suffering from insomnia, there’s every chance that you’re hoping this article will put you to sleep! Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

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Investigating insomnia

If you’re suffering from insomnia, there’s every chance that you’re hoping this article will put you to sleep! Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and it can become a problem when it starts to have a negative impact on your day-to-day life. [1] Difficulty sleeping and tiredness are two of the most common side effects reported by patients with cancer, with between 20-50% of patients being prescribed medication to help with sleep. [2]

Insomnia often occurs with other symptoms, most commonly pain and fatigue. Fatigue, which is defined as lack of motivation and sleepiness, can lead to behaviours like day-time napping, which in turn can contribute to insomnia. [3] This tricky trio of cancer related fatigue (CRF), pain and insomnia affect more than 50% of cancer patients, and is one of the major barriers to improving quality of life.

Sleep Matters

The benefits of catching forty winks might seem self-evident, particularly on a Sunday morning, but research has shown that getting enough shut eye can have a positive impact on our overall health.

Sleep has an important role to play in brain function, heart health, immune system function, emotional regulation and the removal of toxins. 

How much is enough?

The amount of sleep we need varies according to our age and activity level (yes, science supports the benefits of lie-ins for teenagers!), but a large study by the American Thoracic Society suggested the following guidelines: [5]

    • Less than 6 hours sleep in 24 hours has been linked to poorer health outcomes
    • It is recommended that optimal sleep duration for adults is 7-9 hours per 24 hour period, although some variability exists.

There are two phases of sleep. REM sleep is active sleep and includes dreaming. This is mentally restorative. Non-REM sleep is quiet sleep. These phases alternate throughout the night.

Why does cancer affect my sleep?

There are many reasons why cancer can affect sleep. This article has highlighted some of the factors that may play a role: [6]

    • Stress and lifestyle: emotional stress can play a huge role in cancer and its treatment. Stress causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Having too much cortisol in the body can disrupt sleep.
    • Symptoms related to cancer and its treatment, such as pain, nausea and vomiting, can also affect sleep.
    • Sleep hygiene: sleeping in a brightly lit, uncomfortable or noisy environment can result in poor sleep.

Top Tips for a Satisfying Sleep

Before Bed

    • Try to leave at least 2 hours between eating and going to bed, and avoid fatty or spicy foods in the evening.
    • Try a cup of chamomile tea before bed. This is a common herbal tea that can help with relaxation.

In the Bedroom

    • Go to bed when you are tired, but if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes then get up again. This helps your brain associate the bedroom with falling asleep.
    • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet as this helps increase melatonin levels (sleep hormone).

Relaxation Techniques

    • Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation have all proven to be effective in helping to eliminate stress and reduce cortisol levels.

Here’s to hoping this article will help you nod off after all.

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References:

Roth T. Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine [Internet]. 2007 [cited 22 July 2019];35(5):S7-S10. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978319/

Roscoe J, Kaufman M, Matteson-Rusby S, Palesh O, Ryan J, Kohli S et al. Cancer-Related Fatigue and Sleep Disorders. The Oncologist. 2007;12(suppl_1):35-42.

Sharpe M. ABC of psychological medicine: Fatigue. BMJ. 2002;325(7362):480-483.

Waking up to the Health Benefits of Sleep [Internet]. Oxford: University of Oxford; 2019 [cited 22 July 2019]. Available from: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjutLaZiMnjAhWoUhUIHVv_BJ4QFjAAegQIAxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rsph.org.uk%2Fuploads%2Fassets%2Fuploaded%2F50220c8f-febb-416e-8f3f7a4d2f973897.pdf&usg=AOvVaw17HZE5iLm1VNosWPLd6MuD

Mukherjee S, Patel S, Kales S, Ayas N, Strohl K, Gozal D et al. An Official American Thoracic Society Statement: The Importance of Healthy Sleep. Recommendations and Future Priorities. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2015;191(12):1450-1458.

 Naydis E. [Internet]. Fredhutch.org. 2019 [cited 22 July 2019]. Available from: https://www.fredhutch.org/content/dam/public/Treatment-Suport/survivorship/MBCTW-2016/Sleep%20in%20Cancer%20Care%20THIM%2006-04-2016%20FHCRC.pdf

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Onko does not provide clinical treatment for cancer.

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Tel: 020 3488 0182‬

Email: team@onkohealth.co.uk

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Onko programmes work alongside your cancer treatment.
Onko does not provide clinical treatment for cancer.

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