Over half of all cancer patients will experience some form of sleep disturbance.1 Stress, anxiety and depression may also contribute to sleep problems. In turn, sleep problems may exacerbate psychological distress and add to fatigue. Cancer treatments may alter the usual patterns of sleep. For example, those undergoing cancer treatment may require naps in the day. Cancer-related fatigue may not respond to rest the way normal fatigue does, with the result that there may always be a feeling of low energy and easily becoming tired.2 Knowing your sleep patterns and needs for rest will help you develop a better return to work plan. To help you track your sleeping patterns, you may want to try the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PDF) self-assessment tool.3
Sleep difficulties may add to fatigue (see fatigue for more information). Some may have difficulty waking in the morning and thus may need to start work later. Taking sleep medications can make some people feel “foggy” in the morning. Poor sleep can affect concentration, memory, energy and emotions making the demands of work more challenging.
What you can do
Learn “sleep hygiene” techniques. These are simple things you can do to improve your sleep and do not involve sleep medications. Consult with your healthcare team if problems with sleeping become chronic or are impacting your function or wellbeing.
The following are resources that can help you manage your sleep problems:
- Managing Sleep Problems after Cancer (PDF; University Health Network)
- Insomnia (Breastcancer.org)
- Sleep problems (OncoLink)
- Sleep disorders (Cancer.gov)
- Prevention, Screening, Assessment and Treatment of Sleep Disturbances in Adults with Cancer (PDF; CAPO)
- Sleep Disorders (University Health Network)
- A free resource for relaxation strategies for sleep (including a body scan for sleep)
- Twelve simple tips to improve your sleep (Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School)
Modify your work tasks and how you work:
- Adapt your work schedule:
- Ask for flexible work hours to accommodate energy levels.
- Identify and request shift preference around your energy levels (for example, day shifts only, regular shifts).
Modify your work environment:
- Request to store a cot at work to use during rest periods. Take a 20-minute nap or rest during your lunch break. If a cot is not possible, find a comfortable place (chair, your car, etc.) at work to use during rest periods.
See fatigue accommodations for more information.