Catch Those Zzz’s

Catch Those Zzz’s

Tips for Cancer Survivors on How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

by Tina Mason, MSN, APRN, AOCN, AOCNS

Everyone needs a good night of sleep – and on a regular basis. Both good quantity and good quality sleep are essential for good health. 

The reverse is also true. Research has shown that poor sleep habits can have a negative effect on a person’s health. For example, poor sleep habits can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and stroke. In addition, poor sleep can affect memory, concentration, and productivity, and can lead to a higher incidence of workplace and roadway accidents. 

Many factors can contribute to poor sleep. For example:
• poor sleep habits
• household and family members’ schedules
• sleep changes due to aging
• illness, including cancer
• certain medications
• nighttime stimulation, including television, gaming, and blue light from electronic devices
• stress, worry, and depression

Getting a good night’s sleep is especially important for people coping with cancer and cancer survivors. Sleep is restorative, both physically and emotionally. When we sleep, our bodies release hormones that help the body heal and boost the immune system. Good sleep also helps improve our mood and cognition, so we are more positive and can think more clearly. Getting regular, quality sleep is essential for having a good quality of life. 

Create a bedtime routine and stick with it. This includes going to bed at the same time each night.

Talk with your healthcare provider if you habitually have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, including experiencing frequent or early wakening, as you may have insomnia or another sleep disorder. Bring with you a list of your medications, and any over-the-counter supplements you are taking, for your doctor’s review. 

In the meantime, here are 10 tips that may help you get a better night’s sleep.

1. Exercise each day if you can, if your doctor allows, but not within two to three hours of bedtime.

2. Rest or nap at the same time each day. It is better to do this earlier in the day rather than later. Try not to nap for more than 45 minutes at a time.

3. Stay away from caffeinated or alcoholic drinks in the evening. Instead, try warm milk and honey or herbal tea, such as lavender or chamomile.

4. As much as possible, try to avoid stressful interactions in the evening.

5. Create a bedtime routine and stick with it. This includes going to bed at the same time each night. Your routine may also involve reading a book, taking a warm bath, or enjoying a massage.


6. Try relaxation exercises. Numerous apps are available that offer guided relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness exercises for sleep.

7. At bedtime, try to reduce your exposure to light by closing curtains or wearing an eye mask. 

8. Minimize noise by closing doors. You can also try a white noise machine or soothing sounds app to drown out sleep-disturbing noises and help lull you to sleep.

9. If you are not sensitive, try using lavender lotion, essential oils, or an under-pillow sachet at night, as lavender is known for its sleep-inducing properties.

10. Keep a notebook on your bedside table. If worrying thoughts about upcoming events or your to-do list are keeping you up at night, jot them down to clear your mind and help you fall asleep more easily. 

After 20 years as an oncology clinical nurse specialist, Tina Mason is now a nurse researcher in the Department of Nursing Research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, FL.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2018.