- Question from Magdalena: I have trouble sleeping. Sometimes it takes me one or two hours before I get to sleep, and then I wake up around 3 and stay awake for several hours. This tires me out even more. I don't like taking sleeping pills; do you have any other suggestions?
Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D.
There are several things that can help everybody—including breast cancer survivors—get a good night's sleep. One thing is having a regular sleep routine, going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. It's also important to avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening, and avoid excess alcohol. Alcohol helps people fall asleep but then it wakes them up after a few hours and they have trouble falling back asleep.
Exercise has been shown to improve sleep, but one needs to do it early in the day and not after dinner. Some breast cancer survivors find that they have night sweats, which wake them up. For these women, making sure not to overdress when you go to bed, wearing cool night clothes, and not putting on too many blankets may decrease the chances of having night sweats.
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
For sure, many women who've had breast cancer have nightmares or wake up with anxiety or unanswered questions. It is really helpful to sort out what is keeping you up at night—what's waking you up or what's keeping you from getting back to sleep. If it's anxiety, for example, talk to the doctor on your team with whom you feel most comfortable. Simply airing your concerns can help relieve anxiety. Support groups can also be very helpful in processing your concerns and giving you greater peace of mind so you are freer to have a good night's sleep.
There are also effective medications to try, if anxiety persists. All of the changes in your body from treatment, including the hot flashes that Dr. McTiernan just mentioned—which can be triggered by hormonal therapy or premature menopause after chemotherapy—can contribute to the disruption of many of your body's rhythms, including sleep. So dealing with sleep problems really does require careful thought, and changes, along with trial and error.
On Wednesday, May 21, 2003, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Taking Care of Yourself. Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about exercise and nutrition, and other things you can do to nurture your body, along with strategies for finding emotional support, boosting your mood, and feeling good again.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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