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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer: Home Treatment for Sleep Problems - Things you can do

Home treatment may be all that is needed to relieve sleep problems caused by cancer or the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat sleep problems, be sure to follow them. Check with your doctor before using any nonprescription medicines to help you sleep.

Establish a sleep routine

  • Set a bedtime and a time to get up, and then stay with those times, even on weekends. This will help your body get used to a regular sleep time.
  • Get regular exercise but not during the 3 to 4 hours before your bedtime. Talk with your doctor about how much physical activity is okay for you. Walking, swimming, and yoga may be some good choices.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon. This includes coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. It may make you sleepy but will probably also wake you up after a short time.
  • Wind down toward the end of the day. Don't take on problem-solving conversations or challenging activities in the evening.

Make your bedroom a restful place

  • Remove distractions such as a clock, telephone, television, or radio from your bedroom.
  • Block out background noise in your bedroom throughout the night. You may want to use a fan or a white noise machine. Or try using a sleep mask and earplugs at night.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sexual activities so that you come to associate it with sleep.

After you are in bed

  • After getting into bed, make a conscious effort to let your muscles relax. Imagine yourself in a peaceful, pleasant scene. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
  • If you are still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, get up and read or do a boring task until you feel drowsy. Don't lie in bed and think about how much sleep you're missing. Do not watch TV in bed.

If you take medicines

  • Review all of your prescription and nonprescription medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether the medicines you take could be the cause of your sleep problem.
  • If you take steroids (such as prednisone) or other medicines that may be stimulating, take them as long before bedtime as possible.
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