The shock and stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis leaves many patients tossing and turning in bed for weeks or months. However, getting a good night’s rest can play an important supporting role in the fight against cancer. Adequate sleep allows the body to use its own resources to heal and rejuvenate during and after treatments. Coping with stress and developing good sleep hygiene can help you get better rest and face the challenges ahead.


Coping with Stress

Stress and sleep loss can cause vital hormones like cortisol, which helps regulate the immune system, and melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, to be released in different amounts than is typical or at unusual times during the day. Learning healthy methods to cope with stress can help you to regulate your body so that it can function in the best way possible under difficult conditions.


Seek Emotional Support

Talking about your concerns, fears, and hopes with family and friends is an essential component in cancer treatment. Find someone you trust and who is compassionate, empathetic and a good listener. A support group can also be extremely helpful—like the ones at CancerPartners. Hospitals, clinics, and community centers often have cancer support groups as well. Don’t be afraid to test out more than one group until you find the one that best fits your personality and needs. Stress and anxiety levels tend to go up for those who don’t have a support system in place.


Meditation, Mindfulness and Yoga

Regular meditation and yoga have been shown to reduce stress and contribute to better sleep in cancer patients. A reduction in inflammation and blood pressure often follows. Maintaining a regular yoga routine can help contain inflammation and reduce fatigue. Both yoga and meditation work best when consistently performed. Ten minutes a day is enough to improve sleep quality. In addition, Mindfulness meditation helps the mind accept and let go of stressful thoughts in such a way as to change the release of stress-causing proteins.


Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

A body that is fighting disease needs wholesome food and adequate exercise. A well-balanced diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function at its best despite difficult circumstances. During treatment, certain routine activities may prove to be difficult. Practicing gentle yoga can help relieve some of the pain and release tension built up in the muscles. Getting outside for a short walk can also work wonders for both body and soul.


Developing Good Sleep Hygiene

Good sleep hygiene goes hand in hand with stress-reducing activities. Start by examining the conditions in your bedroom. A medium-firm mattress that’s free from lumps or sagging may lead to a more comfortable sleep. At night, the room should be kept cool, quiet, and dark to create the most supportive sleep environment. You can also develop behaviors that contribute to better sleep, including:


  • Turning Off Screens: Bright blue light from televisions, laptops, e-readers, and smartphones can suppress melatonin production, which makes the brain think it’s time to be awake. Turn off your screens at least an hour before going to bed.


  • Avoiding Stimulants: Stimulants like the caffeine found in energy drinks, coffee, and soda can stay in your system for hours. They should be stopped at least four hours before bedtime.


  • Taking a Nap: Treatments and stress can leave you feeling exhausted. An afternoon nap can help you cope with stress and relieve some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation. A 30 to 45-minute nap is enough to reverse some of the effects of sleep loss without interrupting your rest at night.


  • Establishing a Bedtime Routine: A consistent bedtime routine helps trigger the release of sleep hormones. Activities like meditation, yoga, or reading a book are effective additions to a bedtime routine because they bring heart rate down and allow the mind to slow down in preparation for sleep.


  • Keeping a Consistent Bed and Wake Time: Consistency helps the body establish healthy circadian rhythms. Natural light largely determines these rhythms, but your behavior also influences them. When coupled with a bedtime routine, a consistent bedtime can help your brain start the sleep process at the same time every day. A regular wake up time can also help solidify a healthy sleep-wake pattern.

by Selina Hall

Selina Hall is an expert on sleep health and wellness for She believes that sleep is one of the most important pillars of health. Selina lives in Portland, Oregon. She sleeps best under a handmade quilt passed down from her great-grandmother.


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