General cancer information

Sleeping problems (insomnia)

General cancer information

Sleeping problems (insomnia)

Insomnia is when you have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep during the night. Many people experience insomnia at different times in their lives.

Insomnia is a common problem for people with cancer, and can make coping with cancer more difficult.

Be prepared

Know what to expect

There are several reasons why people with cancer have trouble sleeping including:

  • worry
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • night sweats
  • some medications, for example dexamethasone or prednisolone (steroids)
  • pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • other side effects of treatment.

Too much sleep in the day can also affect night time sleeping patterns.

Start a symptom diary

Keeping track of your symptoms can help you and your cancer care team to manage them better.

Talk to your doctor or nurse to see if there is a diary they recommend, or use the example in the resources provided on this page.

Know who to contact if you have a problem

Ask your doctor or nurse:

  • when you should call for help or advice
  • who you should contact
  • how to contact them (including at night or weekends).

Keep this information where you can easily find it.

Managing symptoms

Managing insomnia

Talk to your doctor and nurse and explain the problems you have sleeping. It is important to find the causes of insomnia to work out how it can be managed.

Suggestions to improve night time sleep include:

  • reducing the amount of caffeine (soft drinks, tea, coffee) you have especially later in the day
  • making a sleep routine with ‘down’ time
  • avoiding sleeping, in or staying in bed too late
  • making sure your bed is comfortable
  • ensuring your bedroom is quiet and dark
  • doing regular exercise
  • avoiding using electronic devices in bed
  • avoiding or limiting daytime napping
  • going to bed when you are tired
  • keeping a sleep diary.

Some people find relaxation or meditation helpful. The Cancer Council has relaxation and meditation audio tracks. Also there are apps available, for example Calm and Headspace.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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