Many people who suffer from cancer also have insomnia which makes it difficult for them to sleep. “Cancerland” is a term used to describe this condition amongst those suffering with and surviving through cancer. There are three main coping mechanisms to cure insomnia: cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques (alongside acupuncture), and medication.
Chronic Insomnia is a problem for those living with cancer: Studies have found that between 30 to 50 percent of cancer patients suffer from insomnia. Even after successful cancer treatment, the condition may still persist for many years. Insomnia may be a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. However, there are many other causes of sleeplessness. Insomnia can also be derived from other issues related to mental health, such as depression, anxiety or pain. Furthermore, the loved ones of those suffering through cancer may also be impacted by insomnia.
Regardless, most doctors only treat cancer as a primary issue and often ignore the side effects of insomnia in cancer patients. A clinical psychologist and research fellow at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Counseling Center, Dr. Kelly Shaffer, encourages insomnia sufferers to seek help as soon as possible, mentioning that they should not struggle and suffer through it alone.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Taking personal control
Dr. Shaffer, alongside her colleagues from the Counseling Center, offer cognitive behavioural therapy as a first step treatment. Over several sessions, doctors help insomnia sufferers train the brain so that sleeping habits improve. Patients maintain a sleep diary, recording the moments they go to sleep and wake up through the night session.
One suggestion to patients is that when failing to fall asleep within twenty minutes, it is best to leave the bed and do something relaxing instead, until a feeling of tiredness overcomes them. This may be activities like walking or reading. Other behaviours are discouraged, such as watching TV or using a smartphone. More importantly, patients are advised to abide by a strict sleeping schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. While these methods seem too simple to be effective, Dr Shaffer observed with his patients that it worked in treating insomnia.
Relaxation and Acupuncture
Dr. Shaffer has found that behavioural change may often not work for those who have insomnia. Other ways to treat insomnia include relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation. Also, acupuncture has been found to be effective in the treatment of insomnia. Acupuncture involves the use of ultra-thin needles to specific areas of the body, leading to positive changes of chemicals in the brain. Relaxation and acupuncture are therefore, great natural remedies for cancer.
Some patients with insomnia may feel that the aforementioned approaches which aim to change behaviour simply do not help in solving their issues. Patients may then talk with their doctors about taking medicine or whether it is the right thing for them to do.
Doctor supervision while taking medication for insomnia is important. This is because long-term use of sleeping drugs may result in dependence and other drug influences. Even with drugs which are available without a doctor’s prescription, patients and their loved ones must be sure that no serious health concerns face them while taking the medication.
Dr.Shaffer said that it doesn’t matter which approach you take to treating insomnia, so as long as patients take actions to solve the problem. This is especially true for those who are survivors of cancer, who have already completed treatment.
Verita Life is pleased to help patients get rid of insomnia with these three approaches for our cancer patients. While cancer is the most important condition to take care of, it is important to understand that treating the side effects after surviving cancer is crucial for the sufferer themselves as well as for their loved ones. Verita Life is a Bangkok based hospital, specialising in alternative cancer treatments. Please get in touch to talk about your options for safe and integrative therapy and treatment for cancer.