What does work then? Many people turn to pharmacologic solutions for getting a good night’s sleep, and that may be necessary if one is experiencing severe pain, coping with RLS (restless leg syndrome) or taking other medications (such as prednisone) that actually cause insomnia. Sleeping pills aren’t the answer for every insomnia situation however, which is why it’s important to understand what may be causing insomnia in order to develop appropriate strategies.
There are a number of activities that impact a person’s ability to fall asleep including doing the following too close to bedtime: engaging in vigorous exercise, eating a heavy meal, drinking caffeine, alcohol or colas, eating chocolate, sugar, strong spices or starchy foods, or not limiting iPhone or computer screen time. Fortunately, we can take action to offset these sleep-robbing activities: Eat at least two hours before bedtime and restrict liquids in the evening. No alcohol near bedtime or caffeine after lunch. Eliminate screen time an hour before bedtime as the video screen emits a blue light that affects melatonin production giving the body the impression it’s still daylight and that you aren’t ready for sleep.
Racing, repetitive and worrying thoughts are a major cause of insomnia. Dwelling on the next CT scan, a difficult work situation or stressors within the family can keep one awake for hours. Using visualization (envisioning your favorite vacation place, favorite activity, etc.) can be helpful as is thought stopping and allocating worry time to a separate time and place (e.g., “I’ll worry about…from 9:00-9:30 in the morning.)
Especially important: Stop all non-sleep related activities in bed or the bedroom (no eating, reading, watching TV, texting, or talking on the phone). No naps during the afternoon or evening. Set specific times to go to bed and to get up in the morning, and keep that schedule regardless of the amount of total sleep time.
Finally, I’ve found this particular sleep practice very effective: If you typically fall asleep on your left side, begin on your right side and end on your left side as you follow this sequence: Become aware of your breathing pattern. Take 8 breaths while lying on your right side. Take 16 breaths while lying on your back. Take 32 breaths while lying on your left side. Repeat the entire sequence if you are still awake. Leave the bedroom if you’re not asleep within 30 minutes and go back to bed once you are sleepy. Get up at the same time in the morning, following all of the previous recommendations.
These cognitive behavioral techniques are easy to implement and provide a pathway to regaining control over sleep patterns. Addressing insomnia is important for everyone but particularly so for people undergoing cancer treatment because sleep deprivation is linked to abnormal hormone levels which can suppress the immune system and limit the body’s ability to fight cancer. I hope you have a goodnight!
Join us the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:00 PM (MST) for a discussion related to this Blog. Request a Zoom link below, to join the discussion.
SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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