Insomnia and Cancer

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About half of cancer patients have a chronic sleep problem which is clinically termed as insomnia. Sleep disorders that are most likely to affect cancer patients are insomnia and abnormal sleep cycles.

There are many reasons why a cancer patient may have sleep problems, including:

  • Physical changes caused by cancer or surgery.
  • Side effects of drugs or other treatments.
  • Prolong hospital stay.
  • Stress due to cancer.

Non-cancer health problems
Tumors can cause sleep problems
In patients with tumors, the tumor can cause the following problems that can make sleep difficult:

  • Tumor pressure near the body.
  • Gastrointestinal problems (abuse, constipation, diarrhea, inability to control the intestines).
  • Bladder problems (irritation, inability to control urine flow).
  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Itching.
  • Tiredness

Some cancer medications or treatments can affect sleep
Routine cancer treatments and medications can affect normal sleep patterns. How well a cancer patient sleeps can be affected by:

  • Antidepressants.
  • Anticonvulsants.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Hormone therapy.


Prolonged use of some medications can cause insomnia. Discontinuing or restricting the use of certain medications may also affect normal sleep.

Other side effects of medications and treatments that can affect the sleep and wake cycle are as follows:

  • Anxiety.
  • Night sweats or hot flushes.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea and intestinal incontinence.
  • Bladder problems such as irritation or inability to control urine.
  • Breathing problems.

Staying in a hospital can make sleep harder.

  • It’s hard to sleep a normal night in the hospital. How well a patient sleeps can be affected by the following:
  • Hospital environment – Patients may be disturbed by uncomfortable beds, pillows or room temperature; or share a room with a stranger.
  • Routine sleep in the hospital may be impaired when doctors and nurses come to see you or give you medication, other treatment or examination.
  • Sleep during a hospital stay can also be affected by the patient’s fear and age.
    Stress due to cancer diagnosis is often the cause of sleep problems.
  • Stress, anxiety and depression are common reactions knowing that you have cancer, that you are being treated and that you are hospitalized.

These are the most common causes of insomnia. Other non-cancer health problems can cause sleep disorders.

Cancer patients may have sleep disorders caused by other health problems. Conditions such as snoring, headaches and sun attacks increase the chance of sleep disorders.


Patients with sleep disorders have been screened.

Studies are being done to find out the problems that can cause sleep disorders and how they can affect your life. Patients with mild sleep disorders may become irritable and unable to concentrate.

Patients with moderate sleep disorders can be depressed and anxious. These sleep disorders can make it difficult for you to stay alert and daily.

You may not remember the treatment instructions and you may have difficulty making decisions. A good rest can improve energy and help you cope better with the consequences of cancer and treatment.

Cancer patients should be monitored from time to time, as sleep disorders may worsen or worsen over time.

The diagnosis of a sleep disorder includes a physical examination, a medical history, and a history of sleep.

Your doctor will perform a physical examination and obtain a medical history, which includes:

  • Effects on your cancer and cancer treatment.
  • Medicines, including vitamins and other over-the-counter drugs.
  • Emotional effects of cancer and treatment.
  • Food.
  • Exercise.
  • Carer routines.

You and your family can tell your doctor about your sleep history and sleep patterns.

A polysomnogram can be used to diagnose sleep disorders. A polysomnogram is a group of images taken during sleep that show:

  • Brain wave changes.
  • Eye movement.
  • Respiratory rate.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Heart rate and electrical activity of the heart and other muscles. This information can help your doctor find the cause of your sleep problems.

Management of insomnia

If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your medical team so you can get the help you need. You and your healthcare provider can take steps to help you fall asleep again.

  • Tell your doctor about problems that interfere with sleep. Treating low-level problems, such as pain or other side effects, such as problems with urination and bladder or diarrhea, can help you sleep better.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation therapy may be helpful. Practicing these therapies will help you relax. For example, a CBT therapist can help you turn negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep into positive ones. Strategies such as muscle relaxation, controlled imaging and self-hypnosis can also help.
  • Create good sleep habits. Only sleep when you sleep, in a quiet and dark room and in a comfortable bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and go back to bed when you fall asleep. Stop watching TV or using other electrical appliances a few hours before going to bed. Do not drink or eat too much before going to bed. Although it is important to stay active during the day with regular exercise, exercising a few hours before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Sleeping medications may be prescribed. Your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for a short time if other strategies do not work. Prescription sleep medications will depend on your specific problem (such as sleep problems or sleep problems), as well as other medications you are taking.


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