Sleeping well is an important part of cancer care.
"Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow” ― Tom Roth
I know how physically draining and psychologically challenging a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatment can be. But resilience does not equal endurance. Being able to cope with the changes surrounding a cancer diagnosis is important to be sure, but how you recharge physically, emotionally and psychological after each stressful event is critical. The quicker you can recharge, the faster you can recover. The capacity to recover quickly or being resilient depends on many factors but none so much as on a good night’s sleep.
An estimated 75% of cancer patients and cancer survivors are affected by a lack of quality sleep and sleep disorders – Cancer Medicine
Generally, quality sleep for an adult is when you fall asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed, sleep soundly through the night with no more than 1 awakening. When/if you do wake up that one time, then you go back to sleep within 20 minutes. More importantly, quality sleep is when you wake up refreshed and ready to take on the new day. There is data showing that cancer patients report insomnia at double the rate of the general population. It naturally follows that caregivers also suffer from insomnia as you can well imagine.
The side effects of cancer treatment and anxiety can negatively impact the circadian rhythms of your body. These rhythms are your body’s response to light and dark and help determine your sleep patterns.
It is also true that you heal better when you sleep better. The deepest sleep, the “slow-wave sleep”, occurs in the first part of the night. It is during this time that blood pressure falls, breathing slows down, hormones are secreted and tissue and muscle repair occurs. Research shows that the signals in the brain that modulate the sleep and awake state also act as a switch that turns the immune system off and on. It is not surprising then lack of sleep causes undesirable immune system changes as well.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye” – National Sleep Foundation.
The immune system responds to sleep loss, especially chronic sleep loss, with a general low grade pro-inflammatory state which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Sleep loss reduces natural killer (NK) cell activity, which can increase the risk for cancer and viral infections. On the other hand, your immune system is also responsible for the increased sleep associated with infection. Certain pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular tumor-necrosis factor and interleukin-1β usually increase sleep, and anti-inflammatory cytokines inhibit sleep.