Side Effects of Treatment

Side Effects of Treatment

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: Sleep Problems

Once the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is confirmed by the doctor,  two or more  of the following treatments are recommended : surgery, chemo therapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy ( targeted therapy is a new cancer treatment that uses drugs to alter the way cancer cells grow and interact with other cells).

There are several side effects of cancer treatment, including insomnia and other sleep problems. Sleep problems are common and are mostly linked with chemotherapy, although stress and other treatments can also play a role (and further aggravate your sleep). Let’s look at the connection between chemo drugs and sleeping issues and what you can do to improve your sleep.


A 2009 study published by American Society of Clinical Oncology evaluated over 800 patients who received chemotherapy. The scientists found that patients who were younger (than 58 years of age) were more likely to suffer from sleeping problems, especially during the first two cycles of chemotherapy. Overall, the percentage of patients who undergo chemotherapy   is three times higher compared with general (healthy) population. Insomnia was also associated with depression and fatigue.

According to doctors, insomnia is very prevalent, and often under recognized and not treated as a side effect of cancer treatment.  Another challenge is that chemo patients who experience sleeping problems will take naps during the day, or try to go to bed earlier, which further aggravates the sleeping problems at night.  Sleeping problems include insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), or waking up during the night and being unable to get back to sleep.


Tips to improve insomnia

Sleeping problems may persist even after you complete the chemo therapy. National Institutes of Health suggests the following tips to improve your sleep

  1. Try to go to bed only when you are sleepy.
  2. Don’t watch TV or read, or do anything else (besides sleep or sex) in the bedroom. If you are unable to sleep, you may want to leave the bedroom, and come back only when you are ready to sleep.
  3. Try to avoid taking naps during the day. If you feel very tired, you can take a nap, but keep it short (30 minutes).
  4. Stay away from coffee or other beverages that contain caffeine for at least six hours before you are ready to go to sleep.
  5. Cognitive behavior therapy (or CBT) showed efficacy in improving insomnia associated with chemotherapy (as well as your mood). You may want to talk to your doctor and start using this form of therapy.

Other considerations

Fatigue is other symptoms related to chemotherapy, and is worsen by lack of restorative sleep. Try light exercises such as yoga or walking. Consider talking to your employer and work part time rather than full time during chemo therapy. Depression, stress, and other mood changes can also influence your sleep, therefore should be treated as well. Let your cancer care team know about your sleep problems and all other symptoms, because there is help available, whether with medication or psychotherapy (CBT).


Journal of Clinical Oncology (Prevalance, Demographics, and Psychological Associations of Sleep Disruption in Patients with Cancer)

American Cancer Society (How is Ovarian Cancer treated?) 

Futurity (Chemo Exacerbates Insomnia for Cancer Patients)

NHS (Side Effects of Chemotherapy) 


Brenda VantaBrenda Vanta

Dr. Brindusa (Brenda) Vanta received her MD from Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine, Romania, and her HD diploma from Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine. Her main focuses are nutrition and homeopathy.

Sep 30, 2014
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