Improving Your Sleep at Home

This information will help you improve your sleep when you’re at home.

Sleeping well at night can make you feel better and give you more energy. Some people with cancer have problems with their sleep, including:

  • Feeling sleepy during the day.
  • Having trouble falling asleep.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night.

If you’re having these problems, try the following suggestions.

During the Day

Exercise

  • Do some form of exercise each day.
  • Stop exercising 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

Get some sunlight

  • Try to get some sunlight each day, especially in the morning. Open your shades or go outside.

Limit your napping

  • Taking naps in the late afternoon can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
  • If you feel you must take a nap, take it earlier in the day and set an alarm to wake you up after 30 minutes.

 

Keep track of your sleep

  • Keep a sleep diary or a record of the times you go to sleep (including naps) and wake up (including during the night). This can help you notice any patterns that are affecting your sleep.

Ask about treatments

  • Ask your doctor or nurse about treatments available to improve your sleep, including behavioral therapy. This can be effective without the use of medication.
  • Meet with a sleep specialist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Counseling Center. You can contact the center at 646-888-0200.
  • The MSK Integrative Medicine Service offers relaxation therapies that may help you sleep better. You can contact the service at 646-888-0800 or go to: www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine
Back to top

​At Bedtime

Dim the lights

  • Light tells your brain to stay awake, so dimming it will help your body get ready to sleep. Turn off any bright lights and use low-watt light bulbs (including in the bathroom) in the evening.
  • Limit your time in front of screens such as computers, TV, or cell phones. Dim the screen if possible.

Limit food and drinks

  • Avoid caffeine, such as coffee, black or green tea, sodas, and chocolate several hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t smoke, use e-cigarettes, or other nicotine products several hours before bedtime. They can keep you awake.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but it can make you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Finish eating dinner at least 3 hours before you want to go to sleep.
  • Limit liquids before bedtime, especially if you often get up at night to urinate.

Make your bedroom comfortable

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. If you can’t make your bedroom dark, use a sleep mask.
  • If noise is a problem, try earplugs or white noise such as a CD with ocean sounds.
  • Switch to a heavier or lighter blanket as the seasons change.
  • Don’t watch TV, use the computer or smartphone, or talk on the phone while lying in bed. Use your bed only for sleep and sexual activity.
  • Avoid letting pets sleep in your bedroom because their movements may wake you up.

Relax before bed

To relax before going to sleep, try any of the following:

  • Deep breathing exercises. See the section “Deep Breathing Exercise” for instructions.
  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • Listening to music
  • Reading
  • A warm bath

Ease your mind

  • If you can’t get your mind off your worries, make a list of things you are worried about. Then, write down what you can do to decrease that worry. For example, you may ask your doctor about a symptom or talk about your fears with a friend or family member. Tell yourself that you will do those things the next day.
  • If you can’t fall asleep, get up and take a short walk. You can also try a light activity, such as reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle for 30 minutes. Then, do a relaxation activity.
  • Turn your clocks so that you can’t see them. Staring at the clock can keep you awake and worried.

Be safe when getting out of bed

  • Make sure the floor is clear of objects, including clothes and area rugs.
  • Use nightlights in the bathroom and hall.
  • Keep a glass of water, a phone, and a lamp by your bed in case you need them.

Stick with a routine

  • Go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time in the morning, even on the weekends.

Deep Breathing Exercise

Deep breathing is an exercise that can help you relax. It’s very simple and you can teach it to yourself. It can help you clear your mind, release tension, and sleep better. You can do it any time you feel stressed or anxious.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie in your bed. If you’re lying in bed, raise your head on several pillows
  2. Place 1 hand on your stomach, just below your ribs. If you’re right handed, use your right hand; if you’re left handed, use your left hand.
  3. Breathe out completely through your mouth.
  4. If you can, close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your stomach push up on your hand. Imagine that air is filling your whole body from the bottom up.
  5. Pause for a couple of seconds. Then, breathe out slowly through your mouth or nose. Try to breathe out completely and imagine the air leaving your lungs, mouth, or nose.
  6. As you breathe out, allow your body to relax and go limp, like a rag doll.
  7. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
Back to top