Mesothelioma and Sleep Disorders
A diagnosis of cancer and learning to live with the disease is a huge burden for anyone. Furthermore, all types of cancer cause a long list of uncomfortable symptoms and demand the use of treatments that can also be quite debilitating. It’s no wonder that cancer patients consistently report that they have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. As a matter of fact, the National Cancer Institute has compiled data which reports that nearly half of all cancer patients surveyed report sleep disturbances. A number of factors can make it almost impossible for mesothelioma sufferers and other cancer patients to get a good night’s rest.
- Pain – Nearly all cancer patients report some sort of pain, worsening as the disease progresses. Pain is prompted not only by the disease but also by treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. In addition, those who become largely bedridden will experience the pain of bed sores and the aches of being largely immobile. Despite the fact that chronic pain can be treated with medications, it is still a prevalent reason for lack of a good night’s sleep.
- Other Disease Symptoms – In addition to pain, other common symptoms of mesothelioma and other cancers can cause sleeplessness. For example, most meso victims suffer from severe breathing difficulties – especially when lying down – and may also experience persistent cough.
- Anxiety/Depression – The minute a person is diagnosed with cancer, his anxiety level rises. The patient feels stressed, overwhelmed, and otherwise unable to cope with what lies ahead, faced with life or death decisions. In many cases, depression sets in and the patient feels constantly sad. Both anxiety and depression can interfere with sleep patterns and make it impossible to fall asleep or stay asleep. Anxiety is especially prevalent in mesothelioma patients as the disease is usually diagnosed in a late stage and progresses quite rapidly, demanding rapid decisions about a number of issues including treatment and long-term care plans.
- Medications – Many medications and treatments associated with cancer can disturb one’s sleep. For example, certain chemo drugs used to treat mesothelioma, especially antimetabolites like pemetrexed (Alimta®), are known to interfere with sleep. Chemotherapy drugs also cause other side effects that make sleep difficult, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, mouth sores, urinary problems, and more. Other medications that treat anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and thyroid issues also interfere with rest.
The Importance of Sleep
When you have a cold or the flu, you’re told to get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel better. Cancer patients need plenty of sleep and quality rest as well. Cancer patients who are tired all the time have a difficult time maintaining a positive outlook and may more easily fall into a depressed state. When the patient feels tired all the time, he is less likely to take an active role in his treatment including participating in physical therapy, counseling, or other therapies that can have a positive impact on his prognosis.
Treatment for Sleep-Related Issues
There are a number of ways to address sleep-related problems in cancer patients. While administering medications like valium or lorazepam used to be the first option, patients (and their doctors) are now more often turning to complementary, non-medicine solutions for insomnia or other sleep-related issues.
Experts point out that the best way to fall asleep is to approach sleep when in a relaxed state of mind. There are many things that one can do to feel more relaxed, even when facing the realities of a serious disease like mesothelioma.
- Meditation – In just a few short lessons, patients can learn how to meditate. Once they know the particulars, they can call upon meditation at any time and anywhere, including in the hospital.
- Massage – Many patients have found that a soothing back rub or massage can prompt relaxation. Massages can also relieve pain. Instruction on massage techniques is often available to caregivers from a variety of sources including at your local hospital.
- Consistent sleep routine – Doctors suggest that the cancer patient keep as steady a routine as possible to ensure a good night’s sleep. Hence, it’s a good idea to try to go to bed at the same time each night and to get up at the same hour every morning.
- Avoid over-stimulation – Some activities over-stimulate the brain if done too close to bedtime. Avoid playing video games, surfing the internet, or watching television just before bedtime. Also avoid drinking caffeine and other stimulating beverages during the evening hours.
- Get comfortable – The patient should wear clothing that will prevent them from getting too cold or too warm and should be sure that they have a suitable pillow and blankets for the night. Some cancer treatments can cause chills or hot flashes, so plan accordingly.
- Eat right – Cancer patients undergoing a variety of treatments often don’t keep a regular eating pattern as treatments may cause nausea, vomiting, or other problems. However, studies have shown that eating a high-protein snack before bed may help the patient fall asleep.
If natural remedies don’t work, don’t be afraid to ask for a sleep aid. While these are often used as a last resort, they may indeed be necessary, especially in the end stages of the disease, and may be the only thing that can help the patient achieve quality rest.
Article published with permission by mesothelioma.com