Ways to Manage Sleep Issues

By Jordan Long, AMFT #126528


Often, individuals with a cancer diagnosis have an increased risk for sleep problems. Medication, treatment, stress, and the disease itself are all factors that can affect sleep. It is very common for people undergoing cancer treatment to have trouble falling and staying asleep. Unfortunately, many survivors continue to suffer from insomnia far beyond treatment. Some successful methods to combat insomnia and sleep issues include CBT interventions, sleep aids, exercise, and sleep hygiene management. These practices are described below:


CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Interventions:

CBT includes therapeutic interventions that have proven to be very useful in managing sleep issues. Incorporating CBT mindfulness exercises into day and nighttime routines can help individuals to relax both physically and mentally. Some mindfulness exercises include:


1. Listening to music: Relaxing music has proven to ease anxieties and quiet a racing mind. Nature sounds, slow music, and instrumental music are better to relax than music with lyrics. See this article for more information:

2. Meditation: Guided sleep meditations found on phone applications and YouTube.

App suggestions:

o “Stop, Breathe & Think”= FREE! Delivers meditations based on your current emotions and feelings. Very personalized.

o “Headspace”= Has free option with meditations and exercises. Has a 30 day anxiety meditation.

o “Peloton”= Typically an exercise app but has a wonderful variety of meditations such as sleep, gratitude, kindness, acceptance, body scan, etc. Has a 90 day free trial.

o “Calm”= Well-known meditation app with soothing nature sounds and guided meditations. Not free.

YouTube suggestions:

o “5 Best Sleep Meditations Combined”:

o “Calming Sleep Music”:

o Guided Meditation for Sleep

o 20 Minute Sleep Meditation:

3. Deep breathing: Inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6. Always exhale for longer than you inhale to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and produce a sense of calm over the mind and body.

o Essential oils can be used with deep breathing by putting a little bit on your hands and breathing them in. Essentials oils can be bought through most large companies such as Target, Amazon, TJ Maxx, etc. but can also be purchased through specific essential oil companies such as DoTerra.

o Tapping: see “Tapping Mindfulness” video


Sleep Hygiene

“Sleep Hygiene” is a term used to describe good sleep habits and a controlled sleep environment that can help individuals have a good night’s sleep.

  1. Sleep diary: To track bedtime, wake up time, energy levels, and hours slept.

  2. Limit screen time: Remove electronics from the bedroom and stop looking at screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Instead read or do a meditation.

  3. Diet: Avoid caffeine and alcohol 6-8 hours before bed. Incorporate calming, caffeine-free tea or warm milk into your bedtime routine.

  4. Consistency: Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, including on weekends.

  5. Exercise: Exercise has been proven to improve sleep quality, increase time in REM sleep, and help individuals stay asleep. The ideal time for exercise varies among individuals.


Sleep Aids

Sleep medications, aids, and supplements come with risks and benefits, so it is necessary to talk to your doctor prior to using sleep aids.

  1. Most Common Sleep Aids: Benadryl, Advil PM, and more. See below:

  2. Natural Sleep Aids:

o Melatonin: Signals to your brain that it is time to sleep.

o Valerian Root: Helpful for anxiety, depression, and menopause.

o Magnesium: Helps to quiet the mind and body.

o Lavender: Improves sleep quality and has soothing effects.


Articles about the relationship between sleep and cancer

§ https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/sleep-problems/managing-sleep-problems.html

§ https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20031001/how-sleep-affects-cancer

§ https://www.verywellhealth.com/causes-of-cancer-related-insomnia-2248839

§ https://www.oncolink.org/support/side-effects/other-side-effects/insomnia/sleep-problems-insomnia-in-the-cancer-patient