Tips to get better night sleep

     Sleep hygiene guidelines


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Disruption of a normal sleep pattern is common after a diagnosis of cancer. There are a lot of things to worry about, the diagnosis, the treatment, how you will feel, financial and family issues and it is normal to wake up thinking about them at night. If this is associated with depressive thoughts, particularly waking in  the early hours and is persistent it may be worth talking to your GP as this as it may be signs of early depression. Apart from anxiety there are also several reasons why sleeplessness may be a problem during cancer therapies and these may be amenable to specific strategies or medication:

Sleep Hygiene Guidelines

  • Discontinuing or reduce the use of caffeine (tea, coffee, energy drinks)  after 4pm and preferably after 2pm. If this does not help, try cutting coffee altogether.

  • Alcohol may make you initially sleepy but often you then have a restless night waking throughout the night -try giving up for 2 weeks to see if this helps

  • Nicotine is a stimulant which can keep you awake so avoid smoking at night. 

  • Heavy smokers actually suffer withdrawal of nicotine at night so they wake up anxious and alert

  • Avoid drinking large amounts of liquids prior to bedtime - it fills the stomach and causes you to have to pass water often

  • Avoid hunger or excessive eating prior to bedtime

  • Avoid taking daytime naps unless essential.

  • Establish a regular pattern of sleeping - set a time to go to bed & when to wake up.

  • Sleep only as much as you need to feel rested.

  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy

  • If you are unable to fall asleep within 20 - 30 minutes leave the bed and perform a relaxing activity until drowsy and ready for sleep (avoid light - see below).

  • It is important not to expose yourself to bright or artificial lights at night even from smart phones or computers. This interferes with the melatonin pathway - the body thinking it's day time - this not only disturbs sleep but if you have regular exposure to light at night it upsets the normal circadian rhythm. Studies have linked night time exposure to light to an increased risk of cancer

  • Exercise regularly but do not exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.

  • Engage in a quiet relaxing activity before bedtime

  • Do not watch exciting TV programs or read stimulating books in bed last thing at - read something boring!

  • Avoid temperature extremes, noise and light when in beds

  • Ensure room is dark - use black out curtains if necessary

  • Try to ensure the room is quite - wear ear plugs if necessary

Helpful resources and links

Cancernet-UK: What is cancerAbout specific cancers; Breast | Prostate | Bowel.  About cancer treatments; Chemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary.  Lifestyle advice; Exercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol.  Cope with symptomsTraveling | Insurance  | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials. map
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