Sleep Disorders in People with Cancer

Reviewed on 12/15/2022
Sleep Disorders in People With Cancer
Supportive care for side effects of cancer or cancer treatment could be part of the treatment for sleep disturbances.

People with cancer frequently experience insomnia, which is characterized by difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep.

Cancer develops when cells multiply uncontrollably and infiltrate surrounding body tissue. It is not a single disease. Rather, various cancers can have unique origins, signs, and effects on health. Because awareness of sleep's crucial contribution to overall health has expanded, many sleep experts have focused on the relationship between sleep and cancer.

An increased risk of certain types of cancer could be associated with sleep issues. They might impact the effectiveness of treatment and the progression of cancer. Sleeping issues can be brought on by cancer symptoms or medication side effects, which decrease the quality of life for people with cancer.

Cancer can cause long-lasting physical and psychological changes that make it difficult to fall asleep, even in people who have finished their treatment.

What Are the Common Sleep Problems in People With Cancer?

Typical sleep issues include:

  • Feeling excessively lethargic and exhausted or having a strong desire to rest and sleep more (fatigue)
  • Having issues falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Oversleeping may have an impact on your daytime activities
  • Sleeping excessively during the day may interfere with your ability to sleep at night
  • A person's ability to have a restful night's sleep could be hindered by:

What Can Cause Insomnia in People With Cancer?

People frequently report sleeplessness both during and after treatment. Insomnia can exacerbate preexisting conditions (including pain, exhaustion, and anxiety) if it is not managed. 

Insomnia has several root causes, such as:

How Are Sleep Problems Diagnosed?

For the proper diagnosis and management of sleep issues, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist who may perform an evaluation. This may involve a polysomnogram (recordings made while you sleep that indicate your breathing and heart rate, brain waves, and other activities).

Because sleeping difficulties can evolve, assessments might occasionally need to be redone.

How to Treat Sleep Disorders in People With Cancer

Supportive care for side effects of cancer or cancer treatment could be part of the treatment for sleep disturbances. There could be a connection between sleep difficulties and the weariness brought on by cancer. Discuss your sleep issues with your family and the medical staff so that they can help and provide information. Supportive care may improve your quality of life and ability to sleep.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Anxiety associated with getting inadequate sleep can be addressed. With the aid of CBT, the anxious thought “I need to sleep” is replaced with the thought “simply relax.” You discover ways to alter sleep patterns that keep you from getting enough rest. In the absence of in-person CBT sessions, virtual CBT sessions have been demonstrated to be beneficial.

CBT might consist of the following:

  • Relaxation therapy: Helps lower blood pressure, manage pain, and relieve stress. It might entail tensing and relaxing muscles all over the body. It frequently goes with guided imagery (using the mind to focus on happy pictures) and meditation (focusing on thoughts). You can feel calm and sleepy by practicing self-hypnosis before bed. Exercises from relaxation treatment can make it simpler to use stimuli control and sleep limitation.
  • Sleep restriction: Limiting your sleep reduces the amount of time you spend in bed. As a result, you are more likely to feel sleepy the next night. As your sleep quality rises, your ability to sleep is increased. 
  • Stimulus control: When you have chronic sleep issues, even getting ready for or into bed can make you anxious, anticipating another sleepless night. Falling asleep becomes extremely challenging because of this anxiety. By using stimulus control you can learn to associate getting ready for bed and staying in bed with sleeping. Stimulus control includes the following changes:
    • Only go to bed when you are truly tired and get out of bed if you are still wide awake after some time. Whenever you feel sleepy, go back to bed.
    • Do not perform any other activity in the bed or the bedroom; use it just to sleep.


If non-pharmacological treatment is unsuccessful, short-term usage of sleep aids could be necessary.

Certain sleep disturbances are brought on by medical conditions that require medication, such as hot flashes, pain, anxiety, depressive disorders, or mood disorders. The medication prescribed will depend on the nature of your sleep issue (such as difficulty falling or staying asleep) and other medications you are currently taking.

Which sleeping pills are secure and effective for you will depend on your other medications and medical issues. Do not quit taking some sleep aids suddenly because it might result in anxiety, seizures, and a shift in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep period, which increases dreams and nightmares.

For people with cardiac issues or peptic ulcers, this alteration in REM sleep could be harmful.

Reviewed on 12/15/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).

Cancer and Sleep.

What Are Sleep Problems?

Sleep Problems in People with Cancer.

Sleep Problems (Insomnia) in the Cancer Patient.