Restful, restorative sleep is the foundation for your mental and physical well-being.
But for many cancer patients, anxious, sleepless nights (followed by lethargic days) are all too common. Read on for tips to help you replace those nights with restful sleep and healthful activity.
Don’t lose sleep over losing sleep!
What has long been considered the gold standard of sleep, that is, 8 continuous hours between 11:00 pm-7:00 am, has become so ingrained in our minds that patients not able to match this schedule often worry they’re not getting enough. And this worrying can become a vicious cycle of insomnia—you worry because you can’t sleep, and you can’t sleep because you’re worrying. It’s likely you’ll feel even more concerned because you’re so conscious of and conscientious about every factor that can contribute to enhanced health, so not adhering to what seems the imperative for good sleep will trigger concern. But worry results in an upsurge of stress hormones, helpful if training for a competitive marathon, but not conducive to easing back to sleep.
However, we’ve come to learn differently. Research is now suggesting that what can be considered sufficient sleep varies by the individual, and a base minimum of 5.5 hours is considered core sleep—even if those hours are not continuous.
Tips for Improving Sleep Quality:
- There are many ways to bolster sleep quality. Sleep medications, though effective in the short term, are not very effective for long-term sleep problems: their efficacy drops with time, and they may have adverse side effects. Instead, lifestyle changes such as when and where you sleep are much more effective long-term solutions, because sleep is essentially a conditioned psychological response that is more easily evoked with a routine and predictable environment.
- Improve your sleep space. It is crucial to create the proper environment for sleep, so reserve the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only. You should not use your bedroom for work, and, ideally, you should not have a TV there. Temperature is also important—deep sleep is when our internal body temperature is at its coolest so it’s helpful to keep your bedroom at 68 degrees (maximum 70).
- Do not fall asleep watching television. If you do, make sure to set a timer on your TV so it goes off in 45 minutes—not only the blue back light of the TV but also noise can interfere with your sleep.
- Sleep in complete darkness. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, and even eye covers to keep out light. Remove electronics that emit blue light.
- Maintain a relaxing bedtime routine. Find a soothing ritual, such as quiet music, meditation, or a warm bath with relaxing essential oils, a pinch of baking soda, or bath salts—whatever works for you.
- Get at least a half hour of daylight exposure ideally bright sunlight — each day and appropriate physical activity. Bask in sunshine or take a brisk morning walk in good weather. Sunshine signals the brain to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin. If you can’t get out, use a light box first thing in the morning. This will help keep your biological clock properly set. Plus, being physically active during the day can get your body to produce more adenosine, a natural chemical in the body that helps the brain induce sleep.
For those experiencing chronic sleep problems, the Block Center offers in-depth sleep therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Approaches for Insomnia — a 6-session series of training in specific techniques to diminish insomnia — has been shown to be more effective and long-lasting than sleep medications according to research conducted at Harvard. This approach begins by dispelling incorrect, negative sleep thoughts that perpetuate wakefulness or interfere with sleepiness, equips each person to achieve less restless time spent in bed with easier restful hours and even decrease or gradually be able to eliminate a dependence on sleep medications.
For more information, call 847.230.9107 or visit BlockMD.com.
By Penny B Block, PhD