min read
November 1, 2023

Cancer and Sleep

Hearing the words “you have cancer” affects more than just your physical health. People living with cancer say that poor sleep, worry, and anxiety impact their quality of life. 1

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event that brings physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. Among the various issues faced by cancer patients, sleep disturbances are often overlooked. If you or a loved one is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, understanding the connection between cancer and sleep problems is crucial. In this blog post, we will explore the common sleep disturbances that can occur in individuals with cancer and provide valuable insights and strategies for managing these issues. A good night’s sleep is an essential part of healing and maintaining your well-being during this journey.

Sleep Disturbances and Cancer

Cancer and its treatments can lead to various sleep problems, including:

Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a common issue for people diagnosed with cancer, often caused by anxiety, pain, or medication side effects.

Pain and Discomfort: Cancer can result in physical discomfort and pain, which can make it challenging to find a restful sleep position.

Anxiety and Depression: A cancer diagnosis can cause significant emotional distress, leading to anxiety and depression, both of which can disrupt sleep patterns. The Big Health Macmillan Cancer Support partnership enables cancer patients to access safe and effective always-available digital solutions for insomnia and anxiety.

Day or night, at home or in hospital, Macmillan and Big Health can provide trusted mental health support, immediately accessible with no waiting lists.

Together, we are making clinically proven treatments for poor sleep and anxiety available for anyone living with and beyond cancer in the UK.

Side Effects of Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments may have side effects that affect your sleep-wake cycle.

Hormonal Changes: Some cancers can lead to hormonal imbalances, which in turn can interfere with sleep.

Changes in Routine: Cancer and its treatment often disrupt daily routines, affecting your body’s internal clock and making it harder to sleep.

Strategies for Managing Sleep Disturbances in Cancer Patients

Pain Management: Work closely with your GP and oncologist to manage cancer-related pain effectively. This may involve pain medications, physical therapy, or complementary therapies.

Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate relaxation practices into your daily routine, such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga. These can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Medication Management: Discuss the potential sleep-related side effects of any medications with your GP. If you are particularly struggling, they may want to make adjustments or consider alternative medications.

Support and Counselling: Seek emotional support through counselling or support groups like Macmillan Cancer Support. Addressing anxiety and depression can have a positive impact on sleep.

Sleep Environment: Create a comfortable sleep environment that promotes relaxation. This includes minimising noise and light, using supportive pillows, and adjusting room temperature.

Routine and Consistency: Establish a daily routine as much as possible, as this can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality.

Limit Screen Time: Reduce screen time before bedtime to minimise the interference of blue light on your sleep-wake cycle.

For those living with and affected by cancer, sleep disturbances are a common challenge. However, with the right strategies, you can manage these issues and improve your sleep quality during your cancer journey. Pain management, relaxation techniques, medication adjustments, emotional support, and creating a comfortable sleep environment are all essential steps in addressing sleep disturbances. A good night’s sleep is a valuable part of healing, and understanding how to manage sleep problems can greatly contribute to your overall well-being.


1. Macmillan Cancer Support and Populus paper and online survey of 6905 people recently treated for, or diagnosed in the last 5 years with, cancer across the UK. Fieldwork July-September 2019

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