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  • SeattleCancerNutrition

Sleeping Well During Cancer Treatment

You’ve got amazing questions about integrative cancer treatments and what could help make your cancer fighting journey a little more manageable. I’m chatting here on the blog all about proper nutrition, incorporating exercise into your everyday life, and different types of tea and supplements to fuel your cancer fight. What we do not think about as often is the importance of sleep. Getting a full night's rest and giving your body the time to properly recover and prepare for the next day ahead is so important for health.

People who are currently receiving cancer treatment or are in their survivorship phase are 33% more likely to have difficulty sleeping. This can be due to a few factors: mental and physical exhaustion, stress, pain, and side-effects of cancer treatment may be disrupting a healthy sleeping pattern. Not getting enough sleep can take a negative toll on your overall health, and can make everyday life a little bit more difficult. If you are struggling with a regular sleeping schedule, I am here to help. We are going to dive deep into the benefits of proper sleep, why you should emphasize a healthy sleeping schedule, and some tips on how to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Why Sleep is Beneficial During Cancer

Sleep has been proven in studies to improve the immune system and you want your immune system fighting for you during treatment. The medications and therapy treatments that people going through cancer treatment usually receive have a side-effect of weakening the immune system. People who are going through cancer treatments are often at a higher risk of getting sick, which is something that nobody enjoys, rather it is very dangerous if you’ve got a weakened immune system and could stop you from getting treatments you need. Getting a recommended 8 hours of sleep daily has been associated with creation of more immune cells, which can decrease the risk of illness or infection. For people already at a higher risk of illness, this little boost can be so beneficial.

Getting a proper amount of sleep also has a positive effect on inflammation. Poor sleep has been shown to increase the amount of inflammation in the body. While inflammation is a natural biological response from the immune system to fight infections, chronic inflammatory responses can do more harm than good. Getting enough sleep can reduce the amount of unhealthy inflammation inside of the body. If you would like to learn more about inflammation and how nutrition can help prevent it, check out my book.

Finally, sleep is so important for maintaining positive mental health, reducing stress, and improving mood. Being well rested can help keep you energized to continue to live your daily life, which can be difficult at times due to treatments. Cancer treatment has a major side effect of fatigue, and being able to get sleep and rest can help your fight a little bit easier.

Improving Sleep One Night at a Time

There are quite a few ways to improve your sleep. It may seem difficult when you are laying in bed wide awake, frustrated (and tired), but I am here to share some of my favorite and evidence-based tips. To start off with, you must go to bed when you feel tired. This may seem obvious, but really tune into the way your body feels and as soon as you feel a little tired, get into bed right away. You may feel sleepy at any time during the evening, but try listening to your body’s natural cues. Falling asleep when your body tells you to may be the signal you need to a good night’s rest.

Another important step for improving sleep is to stop using electronics for 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. Our electronics release blue light, which has been associated with impairing our body’s synthesis of melatonin and can increase our stress hormone levels, which keep us awake. Melatonin is a hormone in our body that makes us sleepy and helps us fall asleep. Instead of watching TV or using your phone at night, try reading a book, listening to music, drawing, writing, stretching, yoga, or anything you enjoy to eliminate blue light exposure and get melatonin flowing through your brain.

Not only is exercise beneficial for your health and cancer wellness, but it also can help to improve our sleep. Exercising for 30 minutes a day can reduce our stress levels by increasing endorphins and physically tiring our body, which can actually improve sleep. Try not to do any high intensity activity 3 hours before bed, as this keeps us awake. Light activity, like stretching or yoga, can be beneficial as a before-bed activity to help our body to relax.

Sleep Hygiene

Focus on relaxation. Getting into a bedtime-pamper routine to help you mentally prepare for the night ahead. Take a shower or bath, consume some caffeine-free tea, stretch, whatever helps you to clear your mind. Falling asleep and staying asleep can become easier with a meditation app. There’s some that are simple noises or some that actually walk you through some visualization. I’m a huge fan of these and have been using both “Calm”, “Headspace” and even some options available on YouTube.

Another thing you can do is make your room sleep-friendly. Get some light blocking curtains, make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature, and wear comfortable clothing. Preparing yourself mentally and preparing your sleeping space can make bedtime hassle free.

Sleeping Well During Cancer Treatment

If you continue to have difficulties sleeping soundly as a cancer patient or survivor after trying some of these ideas, reach out for more help. Do not hesitate to get into contact with your doctor to discuss your side effects. There are some medical interventions to try if you are experiencing a lot of restlessness or insomnia during the night like medications or herbs. Your doctor is here to help in any way possible. There are some supplements that may be appropriate for you, such as melatonin, but I want you to work with your doctor and dietitian on that specifically.

Sleep is extremely important for cancer patients and survivors combined. It can help improve our immune system, help decrease inflammation, and can maintain a positive mental health. Always remember and value the importance of resting your body to maintain the best health possible.

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