The Simms/Mann - UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology is part of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and UCLA Oncology. To find out more about research opportunities and medical oncology care, please visit these sites.


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Sleep Problems for Cancer Patients

bedInsomnia and abnormal sleep-wake cycles are a common complaint in patients with cancer and cancer survivors. Studies show that 15% of the general population is faced with insomnia, where as 30% to 50% of those with cancer report having trouble sleeping. Despite its frequency, another study has found that only 16% of patients with insomnia informed their healthcare provider about the problem, and many practitioners failed to ask about sleep.

Some reasons cancer patients and survivors have a hard time sleeping include physical effects from cancer treatments, and side effects of drugs that they are taking. Another cause of having trouble getting rest is that hospitals may make it uncomfortable to sleep. Also some people who have difficulty falling asleep struggle with stress from having cancer.

If sleep problems are something that you face, read on for some tips to help you in getting a better night’s rest more often throughout the week.

  • Watch what you drink: Avoid caffeine at least 6-8 hours before bedtime. Avoid alcoholic drinks in the evening as they may keep you awake. Try drinking warm drinks that are caffeine-free, such as warm milk or decaf tea, before you sleep.
  • Get comfortable: Keep your sheets clean and avoid unnecessary wrinkles. Remove your TV from your bedroom to avoid distractions. Keep your environment dark, quiet and cool. If you find yourself checking the clock regularly, try to find one that is less distracting whether it is less noticeable or quieter.
  • Create a bedtime routine: Consider reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm bath to help you relax. If you prefer quiet time, shut off any electronics that may keep you awake. A pre-bedtime ritual may be worth trying. Suggestions include going to bed only when sleepy, and when you aren’t able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and return once you are sleepy.
  • Be careful to not take too many naps: Maintain a regular wakeup time and try not to nap. When a nap is necessary, limit it to 30 minutes and avoid it in the evenings. Try to take them at least 2 to 3 hours before your bedtime.
  • Consider professional help: If problems with sleeping continue, consider learning relaxation techniques in a group or through an individual therapist such as those offered at the Simms/Mann Center.   Psychologists often can help with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques as well. If you think you might benefit from medication, speak to your physician or a psychiatrist with experience in cancer. It is important to speak with a medical professional before taking any medication so that you avoid having side effects that cause even more discomfort to your sleep schedule and overall functionality.

Interested in learning about possible nutritional supplements that can help in allowing you to relax better? The Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology offers consultations with our Integrative Oncology Specialist Carolyn Katzin, MS, CNS, MNT to discuss an individually tailored plan to optimize your wellness. For more information, click here:

To read more on sleep and cancer, read this article from the Director:

To hear a lecture on Fatigue and Sleep Disturbance:

To read more on sleep problems from the American Cancer Society, go to:

For a flyer on “Getting Help for Sleeping Problems”, go to:

More information on “Sleep Problems (Insomnia) in the Cancer Patient” from the OncoLink can be found:

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