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Improving Sleep

Learn how to battle restless nights and drowsy days.



Sleep is an important part of our life. Research shows that how well you sleep may determine how well your body can fight cancer. Insomnia or problems with sleeping are common complaints among cancer patients, yet is rarely satisfactorily addressed. Insomnia results in more severe fatigue, leads to mood disturbances, reduces the efficacy of the immune system, affects quality of life, and potentially affects the course of the cancer. How than should we treat insomnia and improve our sleep without medication?

There are multiple ways to confront this problem. By evaluating your daily habits you can pinpoint those that are hindering a good night sleep. A few ideas are mentioned to get you started.


To improve our sleep we need to be aware of a small gland in our brain called the pineal gland. This gland produces a hormone called melatonin. Many of its functions are unknown, but we think it might be related to improving the circadian rhythm of our sleep. This hormone is produced at night time when we are in a dark space, usually between 10pm to 3-4 am. If our body is exposed to light at that time this production is becoming disturbed. So,  we recommend to sleep in a complete dark room ( no TV in our room where we sleep) and targeting our sleep to cover those hours. By doing that we stimulate our own melatonin to be produced and gain double benefit, one, improve our sleep and second, gain another benefit as melatonin has some anti cancer effect. 

Prepare well for bed:

  • Don’t start anything that wakes you up near bedtime. Such as exercise, difficult conversations, stimulating mental activity, smoking and drinking coffee.
  • Create an Environment Conducive To Sleep. Invest in a good mattress, keep the room cold and dark at night and decrease sound in the room.
  • Use relaxing essential oils (lavender, geranium) in a diffuser or put a few drops on a tissue placed near your pillow.

Eat to Promote a Good Sleep:

  • Don’t eat a heavy meal 2 hours or less before bed.
  • Limit amount of caffeine consumption (especially after dinner). Try having no more than 2 caffeinated beverages during the day, even if you feel tired after a poor night’s sleep.
  • Alcohol may make you feel relaxed and seems to help you fall asleep, but it disrupts normal sleep architecture, leading to fractured or disrupted sleep.  Alcohol is NOT recommended.
  • Sugary or spicy foods before bed may be stimulating and interfere with sleep.
  • Eat a small snack containing foods high in carbohydrates or tryptophan (like turkey, tuna, soy, whole wheat crackers, yogurt, banana or a glass of milk) may increase a neurotransmitter in the brain making it easier to sleep.


A few additional tips to help your body associate your bed with sleep instead of sleeplessness and frustration:

  • Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy, even if this is later than your normal bedtime.
  • If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and move to another room. Stay up until you feel sleepy again, and then return to your bed. If sleep doesn’t follow, repeat.
  • Get up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid napping during the day, so that you are very tired at night.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. All other activities (reading, TV watching, eating, etc.) should be done elsewhere.

Before you take a sleeping pill…Try Complementary Therapies for Insomnia

  • Relaxation techniques A racing or worried mind and physical tension is the enemy of sleep. Relaxation techniques that can help quiet a racing mind and ease physical tension. There are multiple techniques such as muscle relaxation, meditation, biofeedback and others.
  • Muscle relaxation - progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles starting with your feet and working your way up your body
  • Biofeedback – In biofeedback people use equipment that monitors and makes them aware of involuntary body states (such as muscle tension or hand temperature). Immediate feedback helps people see how various thoughts or relaxation maneuvers affect tension, enabling them to learn how to gain voluntary control over the tense state.  Biofeedback is usually done under professional supervision. While progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques or meditation — can be learned from a professional or from books, tapes, or classes.
  •  Sleep and cancer- A link to a site that has a great deal of information about sleep ingeneral and some important information on sleep and cancer
  • An additional link for reading about sleep and cancer  SLEEP AND CANCER
  • How much sleep do we really need?  Depends on your age, open this link


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