- Question from Website Question: I have not slept through the night since I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago. The best remedy I have tried is Phenergan (a codeine-based cough medication) which improves my sleep, but I still wake up at least three times per night. I am concerned that my body will get used to the Phenergan.
You're right; your body will get used to that. It isn't the best method to use. Certainly, there is a wide variety of sleeping pills, but I would think that after 18 months, you probably need to start thinking about weaning off any medication and working with the waking up. If it's just because of hot flashes, attack those more directly with medication.
But I suspect that it's a bit emotional at this point and that worry is a factor. You may want to work on meditative techniques to relax yourself and fall back to sleep quickly and naturally. The simplest is to visualize the most beautiful place you've ever been, and in your mind's eye be there—see the colors, smells, the flowers or the ocean or wherever it is, feel the air on your body. Have a visual activity that's very pleasing and relaxing that keeps your mind from thinking and worrying and helps you fall back to sleep more rapidly.
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
It's not uncommon for people to have anxiety about waking up, anxiety about staying up, and also anxiety about when you're going to fall back to sleep. This anxiety is all about worrying about how tired it might make you the next day. Also, in the middle of the night, when you're alone, you might find yourself alone with your fears about breast cancer and recurrence.
Nighttime is the worst time for fears. Fears always get inflated and out-of-control during the night. You could make a deal with yourself and say during the night, "I know that this fear of breast cancer is going to be with me for a long time. I'm open to thinking about it during the day but not during the night." This can actually make a significant difference.
You might also find that if nighttime is the time when you experience a lot of the fears about breast cancer as well as breast cancer treatment, plus fears about side effects of treatment, these fears can become associated with your bed and your bedroom. Over time, if this keeps up, your bed and your bedroom feel unsafe and a place where anxiety is triggered. In this situation, you might be able to break up this pattern by starting to sleep in a different room, moving the bed around, repainting your room or changing it in a symbolic way. Little changes can make a positive difference if this is something that you're struggling with.
- Su Kenderdine You need to recognize that the fears are exaggerated at night, but they may be coming at night because you're trying to protect people you love during the day and not speak your fears during the day. I urge you to let people know and let yourself know and think about it during the day for a set period of time, because it doesn't go away for you. But, after a while, we feel like we should pretend for everybody else that we're normal again and that just buries it, and it only has the night to have its review.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. These fears can be like a nightmare. If this is happening in your life, seek out some help to change the nightmare back to some night dreams.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Sleep or Sex? You Can Have Both! featured Carroll Kenderdine, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about how to maintain sexual intimacy during and after treatment, what to do for loss of libido and vaginal dryness, ways to reduce the fatigue related to breast cancer, and more.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in May 2004.
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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