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Sleep Disturbance

Girl with cancer on treatment lying in bed
Credit: iStock

What is Sleep Disturbance 

Sleep allows your body to rest, recover, and reset for the next day. When sleep is interrupted or you are not getting enough sleep, it can impact your physical and mental health, as well as your day-to-day life. Sleep disturbances are a common symptom of a brain or spine tumor, and can be caused by physical changes, side effects from treatment, or cancer-related anxiety.

There are five major types of sleep disorders that affect normal sleep: 

  • Insomnia: being unable to fall asleep and stay asleep 
  • Sleep apnea: a breathing disorder in which breathing stops for 10 seconds or more during sleep 
  • Hypersomnia: being unable to stay awake during the day 
  • Circadian rhythm disorders: problems with the sleep-wake cycle, making you unable to sleep and wake at the right times
  • Parasomnia: acting in unusual ways while falling asleep, sleeping or waking from sleep, such as walking, talking, or eating

Ways to Manage Sleep Disturbance 

  • Keep a log of your sleep (include your naps and amount of time you sleep at night), sleep disturbances, and what you are doing to manage it daily using the My STORITM app or a journal. 
  • Good sleep hygiene is important for improving the quality of your sleep.
    • Have a dark and quiet sleep environment with a comfortable temperature.
    • Use your bed for sleeping and intimacy only, not for watching TV or working.
    • Stick to a sleep schedule so you so you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
    • If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes, try a relaxing activity or getting out of bed and returning when you feel sleepy. 
    • Avoid naps longer than one hour and naps close to bedtime. If possible, nap somewhere other than your bed.
  • Relaxation strategies can help reduce anxiety and improve your sleep. 
    • Mindfulness-based stress reduction helps you recognize your current emotions, thoughts, and bodily feelings to better deal with stressful experiences. These strategies include yoga and meditation.
    • Other soothing activities can include reading or listening to music.
  • Ask your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy.

Some self-care activities you can do to improve your pain can include diet, exercise, sleep, or medication

  • Try to follow the diet your doctor recommends. Limit processed foods, which are pre-packaged and contain added sugars and fat. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat a high-protein snack two hours before bedtime and six small meals throughout the day. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid drinking fluids and eating heavy meals before bedtime. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks. 
  • Avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime as it can lead to interrupted sleep. 
  • Corticosteroids and other medications may interfere with sleep when taken later in the day. Talk with your doctor about adjusting your medication schedule. 

When to Report Sleep Disturbance 

Connect with your health care provider and discuss any concerns you have. Share your logged symptoms and self-care activities with them. 

  • Ask your health care provider when and how to report your symptoms to them. 
  • Report if your sleep disturbance is severe (>7), your sleep disturbance continues to get worse or if your symptoms do not improve from your self-care activities.

Ask your doctor what you should do in the case of an emergency and when your sleep disturbances should be reported urgently. 

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