This section has been reviewed and approved by the PLWC Editorial
Insomnia is the experience of not being able to fall asleep or stay
asleep during the nighttime. It can cause problems during the day, such
as tiredness, low energy, poor concentration, and irritability.
Most people experience insomnia at some point in their lives, but the
risk of insomnia increases with age and with serious illnesses, such as
cancer. In one study, 44% of people with breast and lung cancers
experienced insomnia. In another, more than half of people with advanced
cancer experienced insomnia.
Insomnia can cause other cancer-related conditions and symptoms to
worsen, such as pain, fatigue, or anxiety. It can also
decrease a person's ability to cope and cause feelings of isolation.
Understanding what is causing insomnia is important to knowing how to
treat it. When finding the cause of insomnia, your doctor will ask you
about the following symptoms:
- A history of a sleep
- Depression, anxiety,
- Pain, dyspnea, cough, nausea, or itching
- Use of caffeine,
alcohol, or tobacco
- Withdrawal from medicine
- Side effects of other
- Poor sleep habits
- Emotional distress or
- Unfamiliar, noisy, or
uncomfortable sleep environment
The goal for managing insomnia is to achieve restful sleep and a better
overall quality of life. Medications may help relieve insomnia but should
only be used in the short term, unless other treatments are ineffective.
Behavioral techniques are usually more effective for long-term relief.
First, any sources of insomnia, such as pain, depression, anxiety,
stimulating medications, or sleep disorders should be addressed.
The following suggestions may be helpful in managing insomnia:
- Sleep and wake at the
same time each day.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol,
and tobacco, especially at night.
- Eat a light snack if you
are hungry before bed, which may help bring on sleep.
- Exercise regularly, if
- Sleep in a quiet, dark
room that is not too hot or too cold.
- Start a bedtime ritual,
such as reading or taking a bath.
In addition, the following approaches may help:
- Relaxation techniques,
which can include music, prayer or meditation, breathing exercises,
or professional therapy to learn biofeedback or hypnosis
- Sleep restriction, which
involves limiting the time spent in bed and asleep. If you maintain
a constant state of mild sleep deprivation, it may help you sleep at
- Stimulus control, which
means that the bed should be used only for sleep, not reading, sex,
or tossing and turning
PLWC Feature: Strategies for a Better Night's Sleep