If you are having trouble sleeping, there are things you can do that may help improve your sleep.

Having trouble sleeping is common for people with cancer.

The impacts of cancer, treatment and hospital stays can interfere with your normal habits. This can create problems with your sleep that become hard to manage and affect your quality of life. 

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/dzVHvGI5qfc?autoplay=0&modestbranding=1&rel=0

Getting to sleep or back to sleep

If you're finding it hard to fall asleep, tell yourself it doesn't matter. Try to relax and get what rest you can. 

If you have been lying awake for a while, try getting up and doing something relaxing, such as listening to music or reading. Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.

If you have things on your mind, write them down and tell yourself you’ll deal with them in the morning.

Try not to look at the time and become frustrated with how long you have been awake or how much sleep you are missing.

If you can’t sleep because of hot flushes, pain or nausea, talk to your treatment team about ways to manage these.

Relaxation exercises

When you go to bed, you could try saying these statements to yourself:

  • "I gently close my eyes and sigh out the cares of the day"
  • "I allow a gentle calming breath to come in and feel my tummy gently rise"
  • "I breathe out slowly and completely. As I breathe out, I empty my mind of thoughts and distractions"
  • "I am aware of them leaving my mind and I let them go"
  • "I let my thoughts flow out like a gentle river"
  • "My mind empties and the gentle waters calm me"
  • "I let go of my day and float peacefully and in contentment"
  • "I am at ease"

Some people find repeating one word helpful.

Listening to a voice-guided relaxation and visualization podcast or audiobook may also be helpful.

Dealing with negative thoughts


If you find yourself going over and over the same worries, try to catch yourself and refocus on your breathing.

Breathe slowly and smoothly, counting each breath in and out.

As you do this feel the sensations of breathing in your nostrils, your windpipe, your chest and your tummy. Feel the warmth spreading through your body to your fingers and toes.

Bad dreams

Bad dreams may cause worries and anxiety.

After a bad dream, you might try to turn on the light or put your feet on the floor. Tell yourself it was just a dream and that you’re alright.

As you prepare to go to sleep again it may help to occupy your mind with pleasant pictures or to visualise a place in which you feel comfortable.

Some more helpful hints

If you are having trouble sleeping, there are things you can do that may help improve your sleep:

  • relax in the evening by doing something you enjoy, for example, reading or listening to music
  • try to wind down before you go to bed
  • have a routine for preparing for bed and regular time for bed
  • exercise during the day can help you sleep well
  • if possible, do not use your bedroom as an office or study, only sex and sleeping
  • try not to do work-related activities or use the computer too close to bedtime
  • ensure that your sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible, for example, a pleasant room temperature, darkness, low or no noise
  • sleeping tablets can be helpful in the short term, you can discuss this with your doctor
  • limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • if you smoke, try to quit
Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have nurses and counsellors to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: April 7, 2021