Sleep Is Powerful Medicine

by Dana Demas

A new study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center finds that nearly 80% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy reported problems with insomnia. Sleep troubles were more common in breast and lung cancer patients.

That rate is nearly three times higher than the general population. Sleep is powerful medicine for cancer patients, helping support the immune system and restore the body. Too little sleep can create a vicious cycle that interferes with health and healing.

The good news according to lead researcher, Oxana Palesh, PhD, MPH, is that “insomnia is a very treatable problem that can be addressed quickly so it doesn’t compound other symptoms.”

Here are some tips to help you get your zzz’s:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night, which will help your body and mind get on a routine.
  • Keep your bedroom free of clutter and distractions. Your to-do lists, important paperwork and even the laundry should be out of sight, so it’s also out of mind. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool and dark, too (try using ear plugs, a sound machine or an eye mask, if you need it).
  • Create an atmosphere of calm and relaxation an hour or two before bedtime. Read a book, lie on the couch, or talk with someone whose company you enjoy (on the phone or in person). While it may be difficult to resist doing chores, paying the bills or taking care of other household business, your mind will be calmer by the time you get into bed.
  • Take a bath or hot shower before bed. In addition to helping you relax, your body temperature will rise, then drop, which helps you fall asleep. 
  • Ask for help if you need it. Talk with your doctor if you are having problems falling asleep or staying asleep. There are many prescription options available, and whether you’re a cancer patient or a caregiver, you should reach out for help at the first sign of sleep issues.