Practical Tips to Conquer Insomnia and Sleep Issues for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors.
If you’re a breast cancer patient or survivor, you probably struggle with insomnia and sleep issues. Perhaps more often than not, you find yourself lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, mind racing and wishing you could fall asleep.
You’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, as much as 70% of breast cancer patients have problems sleeping.
There are many reasons breast cancer patients have insomnia and sleep issues. These reasons, however, usually fall into two categories.
Anxiety – Waiting for your diagnosis, waiting for your treatment plan, starting a new treatment plan, scanxiety (the fear you get every time you have a mammogram, test, or scan, the fear of the unknown (will the treatment work, will the cancer return, etc.), and more, can cause fear and anxiety. And unless you can reduce these worries, you’ll end up having many sleepless nights.
Side Effects of Treatments – Chemotherapy, Radiation, Hormone Therapy Medications, and Targeted Immunotherapy Treatments can all affect your sleep at various times and in many ways.
Sleep issues have plagued me often during my breast cancer journey. While I haven’t found the perfect solution to rid myself of all my sleep problems, I have discovered some practical solutions that help me fall asleep quicker and sleep better.
Hopefully, by incorporating some of these ideas (or all of them😉) into your life, you’ll also find that blessed sleep you’ve been missing.
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20 Simple Breast Cancer Tips to Beat Insomnia and Sleep Better
Create a Dark, Quiet, and Comfortable Space.
1. Light Blocking/Noise Reducing Drapes – Adding light-blocking and noise-reducing drapes can significantly improve your sleep. You want to look for curtains that completely block out the light and say noise-blocking on the label. I chose the Sun Zero Oslo Theater Grade Extreme 100% Blackout Curtains and couldn’t be happier with them. They look great, are well made, and are incredibly affordable. These curtains block out the light and darken your bedroom. Plus, I’m amazed at the amount of noise they reduce.
2. Eliminate the secondary “blue light” in your bedroom – Electronics, like your tv, cable box, printer, or computer, can emit a light that shines bright enough to interrupt your sleep. Turn off all electronics in your room. If you can’t turn something off, then cover the light. I use black sticky notes to cover the electronics I need to stay on.
3. Add white noise – Use a sound machine or a white noise app on your cell phone to drown out noises. I use the “Rain Downpour” sound on the free Rain app. I then Bluetooth connect my phone to my Bose Bluetooth Speaker, filling my room with the sound of rain and blocking out noise even better.
Chill Out for Better Sleep
4. Set your thermostat to a lower temperature – According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees. That temperature is a little too cold for my husband, so we compromised at 72 degrees. It works for us because I purchased the items listed in tips #5 and #6 below
5. Cooling sheets, blankets, pillows, and pillowcases – I honestly didn’t know if cooling sheets, blankets, pillows, and pillowcases would work, but they do. If you have night sweats, you need to add these to your must-have list.
My favorite product though is this cooling blanket I purchased recently. I can’t believe how well this works for me. It keeps me cool through the night. I like it so much I also bought the twin size blanket to take when I travel.
6. Cooling pajamas – Another item to add to your must-have list if you have night sweats are cooling pajamas. They wick away moisture and keep you cool throughout the night. Plus, they are incredibly soft and comfortable.
Vitamins, Supplements, Herbs, and Essential Oils to Help You Fall Asleep Faster and Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
Many vitamins, supplements, herbs, and essential oils can help you fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality. But, because these can have adverse effects with some medicines, always ask your doctor before taking them.
7. Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that signals to your body when it’s time to sleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try taking a low dose of a melatonin supplement a few hours before bedtime.
8. Magnesium and Zinc – adding the minerals Magnesium and Zinc can help you relax and fall asleep. A 2011 study in Italy found that giving a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc to insomniac residents at a nursing home significantly improved their sleep.
9. Don’t take energy-producing vitamins at night – Vitamins designed to boost your energy, such as your Bs and Ds, can inhibit your sleep if taken too close to bedtime. Take them early in the day instead.
10. Drink an herbal tea – Hot herbal teas can help you relax and make you tired enough to fall asleep.
11. Essential Oils – Applying Essential Oils like Lavender can help you relax and fall asleep. Spray a little lavender on your pillow, or try diffusing a sleep blend in your bedroom. Your room will smell nice, and you will benefit from its calming effect.
Small Habits and Changes You Can Make to Promote Better Sleep
12. Skip late-night snacking – Eating too close to bedtime can create digestive issues that disturb sleep. For that reason, it’s best not to eat anything 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
13. Reduce caffeine – While drinking coffee in the morning can be a great pick me up, too much caffeine later in the day can keep you up at night. Don’t drink caffeine for four to six hours before going to bed.
14. Take a warm, relaxing bubble bath – Add some lavender foaming bath soap to your bath water for extra relaxation.
15. Turn off electronics – Turn off your TV, laptop, and e-reader no less than an hour before bedtime. The light from these screens can disrupt your internal clock and cause sleeplessness.
16. Relax – Lower the lights and turn on some soft, calming music for a half-hour (or more) before bed.
I recently discovered Abide, a Bible app with music, stories, and mediations to help you fall asleep quickly. I debated whether I should spend the $39.99 for the 12-month subscription but I’m glad I did. I’ve been blessed by the stories and it has helped me to relax and unwind.
16. Essential Oils – Applying Essential Oils like Lavender, Cedarwood, and Roman Chamomile can help you relax and fall asleep. Spray a little lavender on your pillow or try diffusing a sleep blend in your bedroom. Your room will smell nice, and you will benefit from its calming effect.
17. Exercise daily – Regular exercise can help reduce insomnia. But don’t exercise too close to bedtime, or you may have more trouble sleeping.
18. Establish a sleep schedule and stick to it – Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Even if you have trouble sleeping at night, try to wake up at your regularly scheduled time. Also, don’t take an afternoon nap. Napping will only make falling asleep at night more difficult.
Developing a strict sleep schedule that coincides with your body’s internal clock will vastly improve your sleep experience.
Speak with Your Oncologist
19. Check your prescriptions – As I mentioned above, certain medicines can cause insomnia or difficulty sleeping. If you are taking a drug that has insomnia listed as a side effect and you are having trouble sleeping, let your doctor know. They may have a solution
You can also try changing the time of day you take prescriptions like hormone blockers, aromatase inhibitors, etc., to see if this helps.
20. Ask your doctor – Talk with your doctor if sleep still eludes you after trying these suggestions. There can be medical reasons for your insomnia.
I hope these suggestions will help you beat insomnia and sleep better. Do you have a great idea that I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear it. I’m always on the lookout for ways to sleep better. Please share in the comments below.