Cancer: Home Treatment for Sleep Problems

Discusses sleep problems caused by cancer or side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Offers tips like get daily exercise and use a sleep mask and earplugs to improve sleep. Warns to check with your doctor before taking sleep medicine.

Cancer: Home Treatment for Sleep Problems

Things you can do

Home treatment may be all that is needed to relieve sleep problems caused by cancer or the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat sleep problems, be sure to follow them. Check with your doctor before using any nonprescription medicines to help you sleep.

Establish a sleep routine

  • Set a bedtime and a time to get up, and then stay with those times, even on weekends. This will help your body get used to a regular sleep time.
  • Get regular exercise but not during the 3 to 4 hours before your bedtime. Talk with your doctor about how much physical activity is okay for you. Walking, swimming, and yoga may be some good choices.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon. This includes coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. It may make you sleepy but will probably also wake you up after a short time.
  • Wind down toward the end of the day. Don’t take on problem-solving conversations or challenging activities in the evening.

Make your bedroom a restful place

  • Remove distractions such as a clock, telephone, television, or radio from your bedroom.
  • Block out background noise in your bedroom throughout the night. You may want to use a fan or a white noise machine. Or try using a sleep mask and earplugs at night.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping and sexual activities so that you come to associate it with sleep.

After you are in bed

  • After getting into bed, make a conscious effort to let your muscles relax. Imagine yourself in a peaceful, pleasant scene. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
  • If you are still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, get up and read or do a boring task until you feel drowsy. Don’t lie in bed and think about how much sleep you’re missing. Do not watch TV in bed.

If you take medicines

  • Review all of your prescription and nonprescription medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether the medicines you take could be the cause of your sleep problem.
  • If you take steroids (such as prednisone) or other medicines that may be stimulating, take them as long before bedtime as possible.

Complementary therapies

There is evidence that therapeutic massage improves sleep for people who are having cancer treatments. Massage may also reduce pain, anxiety, and other symptoms.footnote 1

Mind-body therapy, such as meditation, relaxation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, often are helpful for people in cancer treatments. Movement-based mind-body therapy, such as yoga and tai chi, have been found to improve sleep quality.footnote 2

Watch for symptoms during home treatment

Be sure to talk to your doctor if your sleep problems get worse, you feel very tired, or have a hard time functioning during the day. Also, let your doctor know if your symptoms become more severe or happen more often.

Related Information



  1. Freeman L (2009). Massage therapy. Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., chap. 13, pp. 364–388. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
  2. Ulbricht CE (2015). Complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies in cancer care. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer Principles and Practices of Oncology, 10th ed., pp. 2163–2174. Philadelphia: Walters Kluwer.


Current as ofDecember 19, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Michael S. Rabin, MD – Medical Oncology

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