How to Sleep Better During Cancer

by Team Onco

Cancer patients often complain of difficulty falling asleep at night, disturbed sleep and poor sleep quality. While anxiety and stress from cancer can also contribute to this, some cancer medications may also be the reason for this. 

sleeplessness during cancer

Do all cancer drugs cause insomnia?

Not all cancer drugs cause problems with sleep. Check with your doctor if any of the drugs prescribed for you are expected to interfere with your sleep patterns. 

Some anti-emetic drugs may cause drowsiness during the day, which in turn affects your sleep at night. Some chemotherapy drugs may also lead to fatigue during the day, which may result in more hours of sleep during the day and less at night. Medication containing steroids may keep you energised and sleepless past your bedtime. 

Non-cancer related drugs like anti-depressants, beta blockers for high blood pressure, allergy medication, medication for asthma etc could also cause sleep problems.  

Other causes of insomnia

There can be other reasons for your insomnia apart from cancer medication. Here are some of these reasons:


stress can cause insomnia during cancer

A cancer diagnosis can cause severe stress and anxiety to the patient as well their caregivers, family and friends. A cancer counsellor can help you manage your stress through relaxation techniques, changes ways of thinning, or even medication. 

Daily schedule

If you have been travelling for treatment or having to visit the hospital several times, it can affect your daily routine. This can lead to difficulties falling asleep at your usual time, and can also affect the quality of sleep. 

Food habits

If you have been eating too late in the evening, it can affect sleep. Consumption of caffeinated products like coffee, tea or cool drinks may also lead to insomnia. 

Consumption of nicotine, in the form of cigarettes or chewable products can prevent you from falling asleep. On the other hand, alcohol may help you fall asleep but it prevents you from entering deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awake in the middle of the night. 

Lack of activity

Remaining physically active during the day helps you fall asleep better. If you have been mostly sitting or laying down through the day, you might struggle to fall asleep at night. 

stay active to prevent insomnia during cancer

Meeting more people, having mental activity like thinking, problem solving, or learning, also helps you fall asleep at night. 

Health problems

You may be suffering from problems unrelated to cancer, like sleep apnea, asthma, thyroid disorders etc. These might be preventing you from falling asleep. 

How do I know if I have insomnia?

Here’s a simple checklist to help you know if you suffer from insomnia:

  • Have you had trouble sleeping for at least three nights in the last one week?
  • Has this problem persisted for a month or more?
  • Are you finding it hard to fall asleep?
  • Are you waking up multiple times per night?
  • Do you usually wake up very early and then struggle to fall asleep again?
  • Do you always feel tired even after you wake up from your sleep?
  • Do you feel so tired during the day that you cannot concentrate and cannot even fall asleep?

If you have answered yes to most of the above questions, then you may be suffering from insomnia. Speak with your doctor so that they can help you manage it better. 

What should I do to get better sleep?

Your doctor can prescribe medications to help you. But there are also some things you can do to improve your sleep.


chamomile tea can help relaxation during cancer

Chamomile tea may help you sleep

Performing relaxation routines daily before bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily. Here are something you can try:

  • Taking a relaxing bath before bedtime
  • Using aromatic oils like lavender in diffusers, or for mild massages
  • Drinking soothing drinks like camomile tea or malted milk before bedtime
  • Dimming the lights closer to bedtime, and avoiding distractions like TV screens or loud music
  • Placing your phone is another room to avoid disturbances
  • Avoid having serious conversation, or receiving bad news in the second half of your day
  • Trying Hypnosis, guided imagery and other techniques to induce sleep
  • Trying deep breathing exercises


Setting a routine that you follow daily bedtime can help you sleep better. For example, you routine may involve a relaxing bath, followed by a skin care routine, listening to soothing music and then falling asleep. Sticking to the same routine signals your bedtime to the brain. 

reading at bedtime may make you sleepy

Also exercising and taking your meals at the same time daily helps you sleep better. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime. Have a lighter meal before bedtime. 


better sleep during cancer using eye mask

Create a comfortable and cozy setting in your bedroom. 

  • Ensure there is darkness at bedtime. Use thick curtains to prevent light from entering the room. 
  • Use an eye mask if required.
  • Ensure the temperature in your bedroom is suitable, and not too hot or cold. 
  • Use clean sheets on the bed, and pillows to stay comfortable at night. 
  • Ensure there is silence in the bedroom. 


If the problem persists, your doctor may prescribe vitamins, melatonin supplements, pain relief medication (in case pain is the cause of insomnia)  or medication to help you sleep better. Here are some of the drugs usually prescribed for cancer patients with sleep problems:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Hypnotics
  • Antihistamines 
  • barbiturates

Things to avoid

  • Coffee or caffeinated drinks before bedtime
  • Heavy exercise close to bedtime
  • Taking heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Alcohol or sugary beverages
  • Taking too many naps during the day
  • Using your bed for activities not related to sleep, like studying or watching TV
  • Using screens like laptops, tablets and mobiles before bedtime

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