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Symptom and description

Seven to 8 hours of sleep a night is important for your functioning and well-being. Cancer and cancer treatment can lead to a lack of sleep.

Insomnia is a problem in either falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia may occur when you first learn you have cancer. You may have problems with sleep throughout your treatment and for several weeks after treatment is finished.

Learning needs

You will need to learn the symptoms of insomnia, how to describe them, and when to report them to your doctor. You may notice any or all of the following symptoms:

  • It takes 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep

  • You wake up frequently during the night

  • It takes 30 minutes or longer to return to sleep after you wake up during the night

  • Feeling sleepy all the time 


One common problem in insomnia is that the bed has become connected with things other than sleep. This makes it hard to use the bed for sleep when you want. These guidelines may help you:

  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy and planning to sleep.

  • Use the bed only for sleeping or sex, not for watching TV, reading, or eating.

  • Don't stay in bed for longer than 15 minutes if you can't fall asleep. Move to another room and stay there until you feel sleepy, and then return to your bed. Do this as many times as needed until you fall asleep.

  • Set an alarm and get up at the same time every day, even if you have not had a good night's sleep. Get up at the same time even on days that you are not working.

  • Do not nap during the day, even if you are very tired.

  • Tell your doctor or nurse of any other medications, herbs, or supplements (for example, melatonin, valerian) you use for sleep.

  • If sleep medications are prescribed, follow directions carefully.


If the above guidelines do not help your sleep, you may need to discuss this problem with your doctor. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Your sleep problem lasts longer than a few weeks.

  • If you take a sleep aid and find that you need more of it to get to sleep or to stay asleep.

  • If you are unable to sleep because of sadness or personal problems.

  • There is too much stress in your life.

  • It is hard to do things during the day because you are sleepy.

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