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Sleep first: 7 tips for healthy slumber

MOON-1Good sleep habits become even more crucial when a person is dealing with cancer.

After a diagnosis, people understandably may develop anxiety and/or depression, both of which can impact their ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.

“The loss of sleep affects the quality of life. If the quality of their life has already been reduced by cancer, and by anxiety and depression, the goal is not to further reduce it with a loss of sleep,” says Antonio Culebras, MD, a neurologist who specializes in sleep medicine at Upstate.

Antonio Culebras, MD

Antonio Culebras, MD

Sleep is a brain function, and the majority of chemotherapy medications affect brain function. Many patients taking chemotherapy show signs of memory lapses, trouble concentrating and/or a sleep disorder, Culebras says.

He says patients need to bring their sleep issues to the attention of their doctors. A variety of prescription medications may help. “You have to sleep. Once you have slept, then you deal with other problems. But first of all, you have to sleep.”

7 tips for better sleep
Sleep hygiene techniques take on even more importance during cancer treatment. Here‘s a refresher, from the National Sleep Foundation:

sheep-21. Avoid napping during the day, since that can disturb one‘s normal patterns of sleep and wakefulness.

2. Close to bedtime, avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and large meals. And remember, chocolate contains caffeine.

3. Be aware that dietary changes can disrupt sleep routines, so now is not the time to experiment with spicy new dishes.

4. Exercising vigorously in the morning or late afternoon can promote good sleep at nighttime. A relaxing exercise such as yoga in the evening can help initiate a restful night‘s sleep.

5. Get adequate exposure to natural light, which helps your body maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

6. Associate your bed with sleep. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine, and avoid using your bed for watching TV.

7. Create a comfortable sleep environment that is dark and neither too hot nor too cold.

Sleep-cancer connection

We already know that sleep apnea raises a person‘s risk of stroke and heart disease, and dementia. Now research shows a link with cancer.

Laboratory studies have demonstrated that low levels of oxygen – the hallmark of sleep apnea – can lead to inflammation, which can fuel cancer cell production.  Culebras says people with severe sleep apnea may have as much as a 50 percent higher risk of developing cancer.

HLOA logoLayout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine. Hear Culebras'  radio interview about getting a good night's sleep.