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Living Well With MBC > Looking After Yourself > Sleep well


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Sleep well


We often don’t appreciate sleep until we have sleep problems. If we don’t get the sleep we need, it can be harder to function during the day. It can affect how we think, feel, and behave. There are many types of sleep problems, like5:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Waking in the night and having trouble getting back to sleep
  • Waking early in the morning
  • Thinking you’ve slept long enough but still feeling tired

Because of sleep’s effect on physical health, emotions, and thinking, better sleep may help to create daily life improvements while on treatment for cancer.15 If you have a sleep problem, these tips may help you get a better night’s sleep. 

How much sleep do we need?

You may have heard that 8 hours of sleep is considered a good night’s rest, but everyone is different. For most adults, experts recommend anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Older adults generally need less sleep. People being treated for cancer may tire more easily and need extra sleep. They may also have a harder time falling asleep. If you have fatigue, you may also need more sleep. You should try to sleep as much as possible to rest your body. Talk with your doctor if you think you’re not getting the right amount of sleep.6

Improve your sleep habits

If you don’t think you’re getting enough sleep, give these tips a try. Some might lead to changes that are quite easy, while others may seem harder. Some people may already know what they need to change. For instance, if you drink a lot of coffee in the evenings, you may want to consider cutting back.6,7 For others, it might be less obvious, so it will be worth trying a few tips to see what works.


  • Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that is known to get in the way of a good night’s sleep. It is found in tea, coffee, cola, some sports drinks, most energy drinks, chocolate bars, and some medicines.
  • Try not to have caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime
  • If you like to have a warm drink before bed, try decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, or a warm, milky drink


  • Alcohol interrupts our natural sleep cycle. Alcohol often makes us feel sleepy at first, but eventually we start to feel more awake. That’s why we tend to be more restless in the second half of the night if we’ve been drinking.
  • Limit alcohol, especially after dinner


  • Eating regular meals helps the body to get into a routine that signals sleep time
  • Try to have your evening meal at a regular time, 3 to 4 hours before going to bed
  • If you like to have a bedtime snack, try bananas or dairy products, such as warm milk. These foods are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is thought to signal the chemicals that help the body sleep.


  • Studies have shown that regular exercise can help us sleep better because it triggers chemicals that bring on sleep
  • However, it’s best not to exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime because it can make you feel more awake and energized. Instead, try to keep up a good level of activity that is right for you throughout the day.


  • Many people believe that a cigarette helps them to relax. This is untrue. Like coffee, nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smokers tend to sleep more restlessly than nonsmokers.
  • If you do smoke, try not to smoke within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime

Anxiety and tension5,6:

  • Worrying about things can make it harder to get to sleep. Try setting aside time before bedtime to write down your worries and what you plan to do about them the next day. If you wake up in the night, remind yourself that you have given these worries time already and that going over them now won’t help.
  • Try to get someone to rub your back or massage your feet before bedtime to help you relax

Sleep environment7:

  • Your bedroom can have a big impact on how sleepy and relaxed you feel. Try to make sure that it’s quiet, dark, and at the right temperature for you.
  • Some people find that regular noise, called white noise, helps them sleep. This noise can be from an air conditioner, a fan, or a sound machine. Falling asleep with the TV or radio on may seem to be helping, but it can make your sleep more restless. The change in sound may stop you from falling into a deep sleep and may wake you at times during the night. If you have to fall asleep with the radio on, set a timer so that it turns off automatically.
  • Some people find that they watch the clock when they’re struggling to sleep. That can increase anxiety. Put clocks out of sight, and don’t be tempted to peek.


The body is very good at linking physical states (like sleepiness) with objects or places (like the bedroom). These are a few steps you can take to ensure that you rest better at night:

  • Sleep as much as your body tells you to, but when you are awake, try to exercise at least once a day, at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime6
  • If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up and go to another room. Find quiet, mindless activities to do until you begin to feel tired, then go back to bed.Do this as many times as you need to take short daytime naps if needed (less than an hour) to avoid affecting nighttime sleep6
  • Take any prescribed pain or sleep medications at the same time every evening6
  • Avoid using electronic devices before bedtime7
  • Talk with your healthcare team about relaxation therapy to help you sleep better at night6