Updated: Mar 19
By Andrea Magni
How are you sleeping is a question oncology teams usually ask their breast cancer patients. Studies show that how well you sleep may determine how well you are able to fight cancer. As a matter of fact, there are links between non-respiratory sleep disorders and certain cancers. Now let’s be clear - lack of good sleep doesn’t cause cancer, but good quality sleep can help your body fight cancer.
Sleep problems are known to alter the balance of at least two hormones that can influence cancer cells. These are cortisol and melatonin. The former is the stress hormone while the latter is believed to have antioxidant properties that aids in the prevention of damage to cells that can lead to cancer. In addition, melatonin is known to lower production of estrogen in the ovaries. (High levels of estrogen can certainly increase the risk of breast cancer).
Lastly, Sleep Apnea is associated with increased risk of cancer mortality. Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when muscles of the soft palate and throat relax during sleep, obstructing the airway and making breathing difficult - thus inducing snoring. Eventually, the airway walls collapse blocking airflow entirely, which results in a breathing pause or apnea (Check out our #FeatureFriday on Sleeping and Snoring).
Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult during cancer treatment and can be a lifelong challenge for cancer survivors and thrivers.
20 Sleep Hacks For Helping You Get a Good Night's Rest:
1. Keep bedtime and waking consistent even on weekends – I use a sleep app that can do that and monitors sleep and waking.
2. Waking when it is optimal helps. We sleep in REM cycles and a sleep app can monitor when you are in that state. It will wake you within 30 minutes before your desired wake up time that is optimal for you.
3. Go easy on the fluids before bed. Caffeine should be limited from early afternoon, all other fluids from early evening. Alcohol is a stimulant and will not assist sleep.
4. Warm bath or shower, cool room and socks! People on average, fall asleep faster if their feet are warm.
5. Keep your bedroom dark and if you can’t … use a mask.
6. Keep it cool – between 60-67 degrees Farenheit.
7. Power down an hour before bed - that means any LED based light source! Phones and tablets all have a “night” mode. Limit lights on in the room.
8. Exercise regularly. Move significantly every day for 20 minutes. Exercise earlier in the day and preferably get sunlight while you do it. Don’t exercise right before bed.
9. Paint your bedroom a tranquil color and keep it quiet with white noise or headphones.
10. Don’t let pets sleep with you.
11. Napping is good as long as it is a “power nap” between 20-30 mins only.
12. Keeping a journal next to your bed helps you sort thoughts before bed or to make notes if you wake too.
13. Take deep breaths, practice yoga, deep reflections or anything that reduces your heart rate.
14. Try the natural scent of lavender.
15. Experiment with progressive muscle relaxation – start at toes and work your way to your head.
16. Visualize – like Patti Smith’s story : https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/11/06/patti-smith-insomnia.
16. Get some sunlight first thing in the morning – 15 mins.
17. Try a new pillow – check for the best pillow for your style of sleep: back, stomach or side. Pillows need replacing every 18 months or so.
18. Make sure your magnesium levels are right - speak to a nutritionist or health store to find out which supplement would be best. There is a calcium magnesium combination that helps.
19. Invest in a weighted blanket.
20. Try a white noise machine. Several noise machines also have settings for other sounds too like rain, birds, and waves.