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Sleep and the cancer journey

Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on so many different aspects of your life: health, mood, ability to function. Perpetually getting by on a low dose of sleep can challenge even the strongest person’s mental health and immune system. It is something that cannot be compromised during the fight against cancer.

Your mental health and immune system are two essential components in the cancer treatment journey, and they are intricately intertwined along with your sleep patterns.

Sleep and long-term health

“When your sleep is constantly interrupted, it does not allow your immune system to function at peak performance,” says Angela Buttimer, LPC, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “As it becomes harder for your body to fight off foreign ailments, it puts you at greater risk for depression.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, 45 percent of cancer patients experience sleep problems, and according to some estimates, 90 percent of people with insomnia – a sleep disorder characterized by trouble falling and staying asleep – also have another chronic health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease that may lead to a shortened life expectancy.

Sleep helps the body heal

It is a known fact that your body heals best while at rest. There are many bodily functions that only occur when you are asleep. For example, growth hormone production is at its peak during deep sleep, and this plays a big role in your immune system. Studies have shown that when sleep is deprived, the natural killer cells necessary to ward off disease dramatically decrease.

“Sleep problems, including insomnia in cancer patients, is not uncommon,” says Buttimer. “It can be triggered by worry, feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and even cancer treatments and medications. The key is to speak up and seek medical help if a lack of sleep is interfering with your daily life.”

Tips for better sleep

Buttimer says exercise, stress management, proper nutrition, and consuming moderate amounts of sugar and caffeine can help improve sleep as you progress through your cancer treatment. She also recommends incorporating other proven methods of relaxation to help promote better sleep to include:

Buttimer recognizes there are appropriate times to explore sleep medications. “Every patient is different and needs to be treated individually. There is no blanket treatment for sleep disorders. But there is help, and patients need to recognize the link between sleep and their overall health.”

For more information on cancer wellness programs, visit Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. For more cancer wellness tips, visit Living Better’s Cancer Care page

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