Improving Your Sleep When You Have Mesothelioma

Woman Sleeping

Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t take much to throw off our amount, timing and quality of sleep.

Work stressors, relationship problems and financial difficulties can lead to poor sleep. A mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment introduces many other factors that can negatively impact the amount and quality of our sleep: Uncontrolled pain, nausea, anxiety, hormonal fluctuations, urinary frequency, diarrhea and changes in work or treatment schedules.

People with mesothelioma complain of a wide range of sleep problems, from sleeping too much to sleeping at the wrong times, or not being able to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time.

There are many things that your healthcare professional can do to help with sleep problems. Saying “Doc, I am not sleeping!” doesn’t give your healthcare provider enough information to help you, so they need some detailed information about your sleep patterns.

Anti-Anxiety and Sleep Medications Can Help

Keep track for about a week of when and where you are sleeping, how long you are sleeping at a stretch, what keeps you up at night and what wakes you up too early. With this information, your physician can determine the cause of your sleep problems and offer some solutions.

Medical issues that can impact your sleep are nausea, pain and steroid use. Tell your physician if you believe that these factors are affecting your sleep.

Sleep is when our body heals from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Doctors often prescribe mesothelioma patients anti-anxiety or sleep medications after treatments. Short-term use of these drugs is safe and helpful. Long-term sleep problems can be more than just an annoyance. They can actually affect our ability to fight the cancer and heal from surgery.

For people who don’t want to take or cannot use anti-anxiety or sleep medications, there are herbal supplements that have shown promise, helping some patients sleep. These supplements include valerian, kava, melatonin and chamomile teas. Please check with your physician to ensure these supplements are safe to use with all your other medications. Herbal supplements could interact with prescribed medications.

Using Cognitive and Behavioral Strategies to Sleep

Some cancer patients can benefit from a few cognitive and behavioral tips, including slight changes in the environment in which they sleep, nutrient intake and adding some soothing music to their routine.

  • Sleep Environment: As a society, we have brought too much technology and artificial light into our bedrooms, and it has been proved to negatively affect our sleep patterns. For those of us who are parents, we can recall the way we created a cool, dark, quiet and stimulation-free environment in our child’s bedroom to help our young children sleep. We need to do the same thing in our own bedrooms. Ideally, our bedrooms shouldn’t have televisions, phones, computers, video games or too much light, as these things keep us too “stimulated” to sleep.
  • Stimulants and Depressants: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and aerobic exercise at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. Coffee can decrease the quality of sleep; alcohol might induce sleep, but it also reduces sleep quality; and while eating too much might make you drowsy, lying down with a full stomach can induce indigestion. Exercising releases endorphins that stimulate the body, keeping you awake.
  • Music: Soft, relaxing music helps some people drift into sleep. The music can drown out background noise. Soothing music has been shown to slow our brain waves to the point of falling asleep.

The bottom line is that sleep problems are very common when someone is battling mesothelioma, but they aren’t untreatable.
Reaching out to your doctor, making small changes to your patterns of rest or taking sleep aids could help you sleep better.


Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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