Going through cancer treatment? This is how to cope with the sleep disturbances it can cause

08:42 (GMT+2) Tue, 12 Mar 2019

Trouble getting off to sleep, tossing and turning throughout the night or waking up in the early hours are all very familiar scenarios for people with cancer.

But while the side-effects of surgery and other treatments like radiotherapy are widely talked about, problems sleeping is barely mentioned.

Yet sleep is vital – particularly when you’re ill. It not only helps your body heal but boosts the immune system which it vital, particularly if you’ve been undergoing chemotherapy.



    Trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, is a common side effect of cancer treatment

Trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, is a common side effect of cancer treatment

What’s more, it can boost your mood too.

That’s why, in the run up to World Sleep Day on March 15, the experts at Live Better With Cancer have launched a new 7-day sleep course full of expert advice to help you get a good night’s rest.

It contains practical information on just how many hours you need, when to get your head down and the best positions to lie in for different aches and pains.

There’s also advice on mental health, nutrition, exercise and even the right room temperature for sleeping. And to help you get as well read on all things sleep as possible, they have curated a free e-book packed with everything you need to know and do to get as much vital rest as possible, ensuring you, or your loved one, has one thing less to worry about. 

From sleep-boosting recipes to the mechanics of how your medication affects your body, the e-book - available to download here - is essential reading for anyone struggling to drift off. 


It could simply be stress – a cancer diagnosis is bound to worry you and make you anxious, neither of which will help you get a good night.

Certain medications, such as steroids, can stop you sleeping well, while others, including antihistamines, can make you doze off in the day so you don’t get a good night’s rest.

Alternatively side effects from your treatment, like night sweats or itchy skin, could also be having an effect.

In a chapter of the e-book, written by sleep experts, it explains: 'Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can cause side effects which make it hard to sleep, including nerve pain (neuropathy), sore or itchy skin, flu-like symptoms, nausea and vomiting, and needing to visit the toilet frequently.

'You might also experience night sweats – episodes of excessive sweating which occur during the night, making you feel very uncomfortable and making it difficult to sleep.' 



    Certain medications, such as steroids, can stop you sleeping well - your doctor can advise

Certain medications, such as steroids, can stop you sleeping well - your doctor can advise


Try to stick to a routine to get your body used to going to bed at a certain time – maybe do a little light exercise such as walking or yoga beforehand to tire yourself out.

Avoid napping later in the day as this could stop you sleeping later on and don’t use a computer or mobile phone for a couple of hours before you retire as they can stop you sleeping.

Instead, spend that time relaxing – have a warm bath, drink a hot milky drink, burn a scented candle or read a good book – they all promote rest.



    Try to relax with a good book, a warm bath, a hot drink or a scented candle

Try to relax with a good book, a warm bath, a hot drink or a scented candle

Make sure your bedroom is at a good temperature for you and invest in an eye mask, ear plugs or blackout curtain if need be.

And if worry is the problem, try yoga and mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises or destress naturally with essential oils or a steam aromatherapy diffuser.

As the exclusive e-book explains, anxieties while battling cancer are completely normal and understandable - but that doesn't mean it makes them disappear when you're trying to drift off.

In a sneak peak from the section about worrying, the book explains: 'If you're feeling stressed or anxious, it can be very hard to sleep properly. Many people find that practising some simple relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation, can help. It can also help to write down your worries, or talk to a close friend or family member. Cancer professionals can recommend specialists who help with the psychological aspects of cancer.

'Finally, online forums such as the Live Better With Cancer Community can also be a very useful source of advice and support, from people who have been through a similar experience.'

To read more from the e-book, click here, or sign up to the Live Better With Cancer Community to share experiences and advice with other cancer fighters.


If you believe your medication is stopping you sleeping, speak to your doctor about maybe changing the time you take it or swapping to a different drug.



    If you think your medication is affecting your sleep, ask your doctor for their opinion

If you think your medication is affecting your sleep, ask your doctor for their opinion

Choose nightwear and bedding made from cotton and bamboo, which are naturally soft and absorb moisture, and, if you have to lay down a lot, try a mattress tilter to help find the most comfortable position.

For sore or itchy skin, apply a skin oil, while a warm body wrap can ease the pain caused by a tumour or treatment area. 

Getting into a nightly routine can also help, the e-book explains. It reads: 'Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, to get your body into a rhythm. Avoid excessive daytime napping if you can, as this can interfere with your quality of sleep at night.

'Avoid using digital devices in the hours leading up to bedtime, as the blue screen light can interfere with your brain’s sleep patterns. Instead, listening to music or doing something relaxing such as reading or mindful colouring can help you to de-stress.

'A hot bath before bed does help you to sleep, since the cool-down period afterwards relaxes you.'


It’s often the unexpected side effects of cancer that catch patients out. While they might expect to lose their hair during chemo, other issues like problems sleeping, mouth ulcers and nausea can be surprise.

So Live Better With has been set up to provide an advice and support platform for people living with the disease. Not only does it offer a curated range of proven products, recommended by its community and experts, the site also provides information and advice on all aspects of dealing with cancer and its side-effects.

There’s also a thriving community forum where people with cancer can discuss anything from their treatment to their concerns or individual problems.

To see if it can help you, got to livebetterwith.com...



Lying in bed for days or weeks following an operation can be uncomfortable. This tilter can be placed under an existing mattress to lift it by 5ins to help reduce respiratory difficulties, reflux, varicose veins and sleeping problems.


Packed full of five-to-ten minute mindfulness exercises, this little book can help you reduce stress and anxiety which can result in a better night’s sleep.


If you’re suffering from aches and pains, pop this soothing lavender-scented body wrap into the microwave and wrap it around the affected area for relief.


Contains both the Night Night Balm which is full of the calming scents of both lavender and chamomile and the Sleep Balm which has essential oils to quiet your thoughts to let you fall asleep more easily.


Bamboo bedding has many properties that make it perfect for people with cancer – it feels soft and silky against sore skin, it’s naturally antibacterial to help those with a weakened immune system and it you cool throughout the night.

All of these – and more – are available at livebetterwith.com...

By Lorraine Fisher for MailOnline

 Published:  22:59 GMT, 7 March 2019 |   Updated:  11:23 GMT, 11 March 2019


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