Any change in your usual sleeping habits can cause a sleep problem. People who are getting treatment for cancer may get more tired and may need to sleep more than usual. Sometimes, the opposite occurs and people have trouble sleeping. Reasons for changes in usual sleeping habits include pain, anxiety, worry, depression (see the related sections), night sweats, or the side effects of treatment or medicines.
What the patient can do
- Sleep as much as your body tells you to, but when you’re awake, try to exercise at least once a day. Do this at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. (See the section called “ Exercise.”)
- Avoid caffeine for at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime – longer if it affects your sleep.
- Do not drink alcohol in the evening. It can keep you awake as it “wears off.”
- Drink warm, caffeine-free drinks, such as warm milk or decaf tea, before sleep.
- Use a quiet setting for rest at the same time each day. Take short daytime naps if needed (less than an hour) to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep.
- Take prescribed sleeping medicine or pain relievers at the same time each night. If pain keeps you awake, see the section called “ Pain.”
- Have someone rub your back or massage your feet before bedtime.
- Keep sheets clean, neatly tucked in, and as free from wrinkles as possible.
- Talk with your cancer team about relaxation therapy or getting a referral to a hypnotherapist.
What caregivers can do
- Help keep the room quiet and comfortable during sleep.
- Offer gentle backrubs or foot massages near bedtime.
- Offer a light bedtime snack.
- Let the cancer team know if the patient seems to be confused during the night.
Call the cancer team if the patient:
- Is confused at night
- Can’t sleep at all at night
Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al (Eds). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical, 2008.
Camp-Sorrell D, Hawkins RA. Clinical Manual for the Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse, Second Ed. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Cope DG, Reb AM. An Evidence-Based Approach to the Treatment and Care of the Older Adult with Cancer. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Houts PS, Bucher JA. Caregiving, Revised ed. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2003.
Kaplan M. Understanding and Managing Oncologic Emergencies: A Resource for Nurses. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.
Kuebler KK, Berry PH, Heidrich DE. End-of-Life Care: Clinical Practice Guidelines. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co. 2002.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Palliative Care. Version 1.2015. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/palliative.pdf on March 19, 2015.
Oncology Nursing Society. Cancer Symptoms. Accessed at www.cancersymptoms.org on April 3, 2013.
Ripamonti C, Bruera E. Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Advanced Cancer Patients. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Varricchio CG. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses, 8th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.
Yarbro CH, Frogge MH, Goodman M. Cancer Symptom Management, 3rd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.
Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015