Cancer: Home Treatment for Sleep Problems

Things you can do

Home treatment may be all that is needed to relieve sleep problems caused by cancer or the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat sleep problems, be sure to follow them. Check with your doctor before using any nonprescription medicines to help you sleep.

Often, simple home treatment can relieve your sleep problems. Establish a sleep routine:

  • Set a bedtime and a time to get up, and then stay with those times, even on weekends. This will help your body get used to a regular sleep time.
  • Get regular exercise but not within 3 to 4 hours of your bedtime.
  • Do not drink or eat caffeine after 3 p.m. This includes coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. It may make you sleepy but will probably also wake you up after a short time.
  • Wind down toward the end of the day. Don't take on problem-solving conversations or challenging activities in the evening.
  • Remove distractions such as a clock, telephone, television, or radio from your bedroom.
  • Block out background noise in your bedroom throughout the night.
  • Try using a sleep mask and earplugs at night.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • If you take steroids (such as prednisone) or other medicines that may be stimulating, take them as long before bedtime as possible.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sexual activities so that you come to associate it with sleep. Go to another room to read, watch television, eat, and so forth.
  • After getting into bed, make a conscious effort to let your muscles relax. Imagine yourself in a peaceful, pleasant scene. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
  • If you are still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, get up and read in dim light or do a boring task until you feel drowsy. Don't lie in bed and think about how much sleep you're missing. Do not watch TV in bed.
  • Review all of your prescription and nonprescription medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether the medicines you take could be the cause of your sleep problem.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If one or more of the following symptoms occur during home treatment, contact your doctor:

  • Your sleep problem lasts longer than 4 weeks.
  • Your sleep problem becomes worse.

Credits

Author Bets Davis, MFA
Editor Maria Essig
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Updated October 1, 2008

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