Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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Sleep problems

Sleep problems can be defined as a change in usual sleeping habits. People who are getting treatment for cancer may get tired more easily and may need to sleep more than usual. Sometimes, the opposite problem occurs and people may 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 prescription drugs.

What the patient can do

  • Sleep as much as your body tells you to, but when you are 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.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks in the evening. They can keep you awake as they “wear off.”
  • Drink warm, caffeine-free drinks, such as warm milk or decaf tea, before sleep.
  • Use a quiet setting for rest during the same period of time each day. Take short daytime naps if needed (less than an hour) to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep.
  • Take sleeping medicine or pain relievers prescribed by the doctor 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 doctor about relaxation therapy or getting a referral to a hypnotherapist.

What caregivers can do

  • Help keep the room as quiet and comfortable as possible during sleep.
  • Offer gentle backrubs or foot massages near bedtime.
  • Offer a light bedtime snack.
  • Let the doctor know if the patient seems to be confused during the night.

Call the doctor if the patient:

  • Is confused at night
  • Can’t sleep at all at night

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013