Sleep Disruption

The disruption of good sleep can decrease your ability to cope and lead to feeling isolated.

Key Points

  • Insomnia is the experience of having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep during the night.
  • Unmanaged symptoms such as pain, depression or anxiety can contribute to insomnia, and then insomnia can often worsen these and other cancer-related symptoms.
  • Several complementary approaches can help with sleep disruption.

Insomnia is a fairly common sleep problem for those with cancer. “Insomnia is the experience of having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. It may cause you problems during the day, such as tiredness, low energy, poor concentration, and irritability.”1

Unmanaged symptoms such as pain, depression or anxiety can contribute to insomnia, and then insomnia can often worsen these and other cancer-related symptoms.

Electromagnetic Fields and Sleep

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) may possibly have a detrimental effect on circadian rhythms, although the idea is controversial. Some evidence suggests that EMFs may affect melatonin metabolism and the circadian rhythm:

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Insomnia or sleep disruption is also a common side effect of many medications, such as statins. Before pursuing treatments for sleep disruption, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any of your prescription medications may contribute to sleep disruption and whether adjustments can be made.

Managing Sleep Disruption

Helpsy Health

Even when people are getting the best of cancer treatment, they often feel like they need more help with organizing their care and managing symptoms and side effects. Helpsy empowers members to take control of their health through a real-time virtual nurse support service. This service is available via mobile devices, a Helpsy website and automated phone calls.

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Several complementary approaches can help with sleep disruption. The Society for Integrative Oncology clinical practice guidelines list integrative therapies with evidence for usefulness in sleep disruption:6

  • Mind-body approaches such as these:
    • Meditation
    • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
    • Relaxation training
    • Hypnosis
    • Yoga

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See Sleeping Well for a full review of therapies to promote quality sleep.

In addition to complementary therapies, consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on November 15, 2019.

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