A good night’s sleep repairs the body and mind. Rest is important for everyone, but consistent sleep is essential for patients with pleural, peritoneal, or pericardial mesothelioma. It’s not always easy to rest while undergoing cancer treatment — some medications and procedures may disrupt normal sleep patterns and cause insomnia.
The Importance of Sleep
Humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping and consistent, quality rest is necessary to maintain mental and physical health. According to medical experts, sleep is just as important as food and water.
Sleep helps form and maintain new pathways in the brain. Feeling a bit foggy after a restless night? There’s a good reason for it: without sleep, nerve cells, called neurons, can’t talk to each other. That communication is vital for helping us learn, focus, create new memories, and respond to our environment.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but sleep seems to impact tissues and biological systems throughout the body. This includes everything from major organs, like the heart and lungs, to the metabolism and immune system. Some studies have shown sleep can even prevent toxins from building up in your brain.
How Cancer Treatment Affects Sleep Quality
Mesothelioma patients may experience different levels of fatigue, from a slight lack of energy to complete exhaustion and sleepiness. Certain courses of treatment can exacerbate this feeling of tiredness, and increase the need for sleep.
Chemotherapy drugs are designed to destroy cancer cells, but may also damage healthy cells too. It takes energy for the body to repair tissue, which may cause patients to feel more tired than normal.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy particle beams to eliminate abnormal cells and shrink tumors. Although the treatment is targeted or applied only to specific sections of the body, it may also damage nearby healthy cells, leading to fatigue.
Side effects like pain, vomiting, and mood changes resulting from medications, outpatient procedures, and surgery may also affect the patient’s ability to sleep or cause temporary insomnia.
Ready, Set, Rest: 5 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Fighting a rare disease like mesothelioma is challenging, and treatment can take a toll on both the body and mind. Consistent, quality sleep can help the body heal faster and reduce the physical and emotional stress patients often experience after a cancer diagnosis.
Here are five daily habits that may help improve sleep:
- Establish a Routine: A nightly bedtime routine isn’t just for kids, it also works for adults. Go to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends. One or two hours before you turn down the covers, dim the lights, and turn off all electronics. If you’re having trouble relaxing, try taking a hot shower or bath to soothe tired muscles and nerves. Make a cup of herbal tea, and settle on the couch with a good book. No matter what helps you relax, follow the same sleep routine every night.
- Create a Soothing Environment: Turn off any bright lights in the bedroom, and consider using a nightlight if you happen to wake up often. Adjust the thermostat to keep the bedroom cool and regulate your body temperature. Use a white noise machine or fan to drown out any excess street noise, or invest in a good pair of earplugs.
- Adjust Eating Habits: Eating late at night, or consuming spicy, heavy foods at dinner may cause indigestion and affect sleep. Plan to eat your last big meal around two hours before bedtime. Avoid consuming caffeinated coffee or tea in the afternoon. Drinking alcohol may cause you to feel drowsy, but often causes a drop in blood sugar which can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Keep Moving: Regular physical activity, like cycling, swimming, or jogging not only helps maintain weight and cardiovascular health, it can also help you sleep. If you’re feeling tired as a result of treatment, try a more calming activity, like yoga or tai chi. Experts say it’s best to finish your workouts at least four to six hours before bedtime.
- Maintain Mental Health: Cancer treatment can contribute to or increase anxiety or depression. If you’re feeling down or can’t stop your mind from spinning, it may help to write your thoughts down in a journal throughout the day, or just before bed. Talking to a counselor or therapist may help you cope with stressful life experiences, like chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Struggling to Sleep? Seek Professional Help
Experts suggest trying to sleep between seven to nine hours every night, but if you don’t reach that number, don’t stress. Not every mesothelioma patient needs the same amount of sleep. Patients who are receiving cancer treatment may find they need more rest at night, while some may find it helpful to take a few naps during the day.
If side effects from mesothelioma treatment, either physical or mental, are keeping you awake, talk to your doctor. He or she can prescribe medications that may help you rest and heal.