Alongside the aches, pains, nausea, fatigue and anxiety that accompany chemotherapy, one of the most frustrating and difficult factors can be frequent insomnia. During a period when your body and mind need peak levels of rest to remain active, sleeplessness associated with mesothelioma and cancer treatment can be a major burden on your overall health.
A 2009 study from researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that approximately 75 percent of cancer patients treated who received chemotherapy experienced either short- or long-term insomnia – meaning they couldn’t get a good night of sleep for at least three nights in a given week. Furthermore, those living with lung cancer were among the groups most likely to experience insomnia.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer and have been struggling with regular sleep issues, here are some tips on how to beat insomnia and enjoy a good night’s rest.
Minimize daytime napping after chemotherapy
One of the unfortunate paradoxes about chemotherapy is that it can simultaneously leave you feeling extra tired while making it seem nearly impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night. The chemicals used to combat excessive cellular growth in mesothelioma and lung cancer can result in frequent fatigue, especially during and right after a treatment session, according to Cancer Network.
“Our biological clock gets out of sync during chemotherapy, especially after the first cycle of treatment,” Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in a 2009 insomnia and chemotherapy study. “[The body attempts to compensate for this], but with each repeated administration of chemotherapy, it becomes more difficult.”
While Ancoli-Israel is unsure exactly why this occurs, she suggests it could have to do with fatigue as well as behavioral issues like chemotherapy patients napping more frequently during the daytime – making it difficult to go to bed on time hours later. Avoiding naps and sticking to a regular bedtime can help keep circadian rhythms related to sleep in check.
Consider a sleep aid
If too much napping isn’t the cause of your insomnia, you may want to consider a couple of supplemental sleep aids to drift off to bed at night.
Miles Hassell, M.D., director of Providence Integrative Medicine at Providence Cancer Center, suggests that medications like Ambien and Sonata are effective for helping chemotherapy patients enjoy a deep sleep.
However, Hassell notes that these drugs are meant to be short-term solutions, and there are other natural supplements that can be of use in their place. If you’re hesitant to rely on these prescription sleep medicines, taking the hormone melatonin – charged with regulating sleep cycles in the body – can help you get your bedtime habits back on track. Similarly, the valerian plant, which can function as a natural sedative, can be taken in pill and root form.
Seek specialized sleep therapy
Some cases of insomnia caused by chemotherapy may be tied up in other issues as well, such as anxiety about mesothelioma or lung cancer diagnosis, depression, social withdrawal or a range of other psychosomatic issues. According to the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, you may want to experiment with specialized behavioral and sleep therapy sessions to overcome this level of insomnia.
The source notes that studies have shown that between 70 percent and 80 percent of patients with insomnia experience symptoms improving when going through psychological therapy. Furthermore, this remained effective for nearly two years after therapy began. Sleep treatment includes education on better sleep habits, how to control stimuli that may interfere with sleep and sleep restriction practices. Relaxation and cognitive therapy can also help deal with mental health issues related to insomnia during mesothelioma chemotherapy