Struggling to Sleep with Cancer? You're Not Alone

Research has found up to 80% of all patients with a cancer diagnosis experience some degree of disturbed sleep during their cancer diagnosis and treatment. There are multiple reasons why sleep is disturbed, but luckily there are ways to manage your sleep.

Why is sleep important when you have Cancer?

Linked to physical and mental health, lack of sleep can cause depression, reduce memory function and coordination. As well as increase your risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Lack of sleep has also associated with poor problem-solving and decision skills, as well as weight gain.

Regular and healthy sleep patterns can lead improved mood, ability to exercise more and better eating habits. It allows your body to prepare for the next day properly so that you can be at your peak.

How does cancer affect sleep?

From feeling a lump to treatment, a cancer diagnosis can affect sleep through a number of different ways:


Cancer Diagnosis:

Being diagnosed with cancer is stressful. With all the scans, tests, meeting people and information it can be overwhelming, to say the least; and time to yourself to think, plan and relax is limited. Heightened stress levels and anxiety can play havoc with your sleep. It can keep you up at night, wake you up, and make it difficult to get back to sleep.

What can help?

Information overload is often seen in patients newly diagnosed. Not wanting to miss crucial pieces of information can lead you staying up late searching things on the internet, or becoming anxious trying to replay conversations in your head.

Having a notebook with you at all times, including next to your bed at nighttime will allow you to write down any thought or question you come across. Whenever you remember a piece of information, write it down. Thought of a question you need to ask? Write it down. You’ll be able to repeat and ask everything you have written when you next speak to the appropriate person.


Surgery for Cancer:

Surgery can be tiring and disturb your sleep patterns. In Hospital nurses may need to tend to your dressings or tubes throughout the night, resulting in you waking up. Many surgical procedures can also lead to pain. Uncontrolled pain can keep you up at night, or wake you up.

What can help?

Eye masks and headband earphones can lessen the distractions that can wake you up in Hospital.

Keeping your pain under control is also key to helping you sleep. Understanding expectations versus reality with your treating team is a good starting point. In complex patients, being pain-free may not be possible, but being at a level that allows you to sleep comfortably is.

Being in control and on top of your pain medication, understanding what you are taking, when you can take it, and how it affects you are the three most important components of controlling pain. Reminders, such as alarms or visual calendars are excellent tools to tell you when you need to take your medication to ensure that it doesn’t increase to a level that is uncomfortable. Non-medical products such as heat wraps and pillows are beneficial in improving aches and stiffness as well as helping to reposition the body to improve sleep.



Can you have chemo fatigue and insomnia? Yes. People undergoing chemo commonly describe having fatigue requiring naps during the day, but being kept awake at night. Sleeping throughout the day and napping does not provide the level of sleep needed to function to your full extent. Napping can also interfere with falling asleep later in the evening, especially if you having long naps late in the afternoon.

What can help?

Keeping a structured routine including nap times may seem beyond reach, but setting small goals and having alarms for when to wake up can promote a healthy sleep pattern. Writing down your nap time, lengths, and how you feel after each nap and how long you sleep for could also trigger you to decrease (or increase) your napping times. If possible, try some mild activity or exercise during the day, even if it is walking around the block or up a set of stairs.

Meditation and mindfulness before bedtime have been shown to improve quality and length of sleep. There are many books available that provide easy tips on what to do. Creating an evening routine, such as turning off TV, drinking something soothing like a herbal tea and then reading before bed can help prepare your body to fall asleep.



Radiotherapy, like chemotherapy, can be exhausting on the body; leading to napping during the day, and reduced quality and length of sleep in the evening. Radiotherapy-induced reaction areas can cause the skin to become reddened and itchy, which if left unmanaged, can be quite uncomfortable.

What can help?

A skin care routine will hydrate skin and promote healing, and hopefully, reduce the itchiness of the skin allowing you to sleep at night.

Speak to you nurse or treating Doctor about what creams and ointments to use and which ones should be avoided. Ensuring you keep yourself hydrated from the inside, by drinking lots of fluids (not including alcohol or caffeinated drinks), will also help improve skin's condition.

Wearing loose clothing that is made from Bamboo will also reduce skin irritation. Bamboo is hypoallergenic making it a non-irritating fabric, ideal for those with reddened and dry skin caused by radiotherapy.



Disrupted hormones can lead to hot flushes. If you ever have experienced a hot flush, you know the feeling of suddenly waking up, boiling (sometimes soaked in sweat), unable to fall back to sleep. It is highly unpleasant and can impact your sleep significantly if left untreated.

What can help?

Chilling gel pillows can keep you cool at night and reduce the impact of hot flushes. Bamboo fabric is more absorbent than cotton, so having bamboo pyjamas or sheets can remove excess sweat that could potentially wake you up.


What can I do to help me sleep?

There are many ways unfortunately where cancer and its treatments can disturb your sleep. Luckily many products can help you get some much-needed shut-eye. 

The Live Better With community recommends the following products to help you sleep:

The Can't Sleep Bundle

Containing the Badger Sleep Balm, Aqua Oleum Lavender Essential Oil, Bio-Ears Earplugs, The Can’t Sleep Colouring Book and the Bach Rescue Remedy, the Can’t Sleep Bundle will ensure you are relaxed before bed. Allowing you to get some quality sleep and be ready for the days ahead.


Gel’O Cooling Pillow

The Gel'O Cooling Pillow is perfect for those who suffer from night sweats which result in trouble sleeping. In addition, the mat is also perfect for those with stiff muscles as it can be heated and placed on aches and pains.


Badger Night Night and Sleep Balm Set:

To help you drift off to sleep this bundle contains a Badger Night Night Balm (21g) and a Badger Sleep Balm (21g), both organic balms designed to help relax you, and help you drift off to sleep naturally.

Treatment Planning Kit:

Containing three different books that cover different aspects of the cancer experience, The Treatment Planning Kit aims to help reduce anxiety. 

  • Cancer is my Teacher describes how Lucy O’Donnell managed to turn cancer into a positive experience. This book doesn't just cover the physical side, but also the emotional and spiritual aspects.
  • The Cancer Survivor’s Companion is packed reassurance, understanding and simple, practical ways to tackle key issues such as worry and anxiety, depression and low mood, anger, self-esteem and body image, relationships and sex, fatigue, sleep and relaxation.
  • The Anti-Cancer Cookbook will show you how, through simple alterations in diet, lifestyle and attitude, you can tackle cancer alongside conventional treatments.


Help With Healing Gift Set:

Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause your skin to become dry, reddened and irritated. If left unmanaged itchy skin can keep you up at night. The Help with Healing Gift Set includes the Cotswold Lavender Bath Salts, Kelo-Cote Scar Gel, Lyonsleaf Calendula Cream 30ml and Gel'O Cool Pillow to alleviate irritation caused by your skin. 

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