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NCCN Survivorship Guidelines & Your Cancer Journey – Part 3: Sleep Disorders

By PearlPoint Nutrition Services April 30, 2013Pearls of Wisdom Blog

Tick tock tick tock. Is there anything more frustrating or exhausting than listening to the clock, staring at the ceiling, trying to drift to sleep? Whether difficulty falling asleep, multiple awakenings during the night, or early morning awakenings with the inability to get back to sleep, nearly 15% of the general population faces some form of insomnia. With the added stress and side effects of cancer, survivors often find good sleep even more elusive. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) reports between 30-50% of cancer survivors cope with troubled sleep during treatment and beyond. However, quality sleep is essential to healing, proper immune function, and even mental health. This makes NCCN’s recent survivorship guidelines, which recommend regular assessments for sleep disorders so important.

According to National Cancer Institute, there are many reasons a cancer survivor may have trouble sleeping, including:

  • Physical changes caused by the cancer or surgery.
  • Side effects of drugs or other treatments.
  • Being in the hospital.
  • Stress about having cancer or cancer recurrence.

How can lifestyle changes help combat these issues?

  • Sleep disorders that are caused by side effects of the cancer or cancer treatment may be helped by relieving the symptoms of those side effects, i.e. nausea, hot flashes, pain, etc. PearlPoint’s cancer supportive services team is here to help with side effect management suggestions.
  • Diet and exercise are also helpful in fighting insomnia. Survivors should get regular exercise but not within three hours of bedtime.
  • A high-protein snack such as milk or turkey two hours before bedtime is also helpful.
  • Always avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods before bedtime as well as alcohol or smoking.

When you need more help fighting sleep issues, your doctor may recommend treatment by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps reduce anxiety about getting to sleep. Examples of CBT include stimulus control, sleep restriction, and relaxation therapy.

  • Stimulus control – going to bed only when you are sleepy and getting out of bed if you do not fall asleep after a short time. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy.
  • Sleep restriction – decreases the time you spend in bed sleeping. This makes you more likely to feel sleepy the next night.
  • Relaxation therapy – used to relieve muscle tension and stress, lower blood pressure, and control pain.

Some patients may experience more serious sleep issues, including insomnia (inability to sleep), excessive sleepiness, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or parasomnias. Make your medical team aware if you suspect you may suffer from any of these disorders. In spite of the prevalence of sleep disorders among survivors, many are hesitant to inform their healthcare providers. Survivors should not simply dismiss the lack of sleep as merely due to stress, or as a lesser priority compared to other issues they are facing; it is important to address sleep issues to maintain a healthy survivorship. Consultations with sleep specialists (including evaluation of physical changes that happen while you sleep), medications, and other types of treatment can all be in your arsenal to fight sleep issues.

For more on sleep disorders and your cancer journey click below:

Sleep Disorders in Cancer Patients

Managing Sleep Disorders in Cancer Patients


Blog Author: Joseph Conner
PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

Author PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

PearlPoint Nutrition Services is a program of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

More posts by PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

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