Are you Sleepless in Seattle? The Guide to Getting Restful Sleep

May 7, 2019 Julia Inderbitzin, Health Education Intern

Getting a good night’s rest is important for many reasons. It improves your physical and mental health, which helps you be more alert throughout the day. It also boosts your immune system and helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Getting enough sleep can also help your appetite and improve the control of hormones and energy. As recommended by the American Cancer Society, adults need 7-8 hours per night to be well-rested, but most people get less.

A lack of sleep can happen for many reasons but cancer patients may be more likely to lose sleep due to pain, anxiety, side effects of treatment, medicine, or stress. Cancer treatment may cause changes in sleeping patterns or cause patients to find it difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Cancer patients are even more in need of a good night’s sleep because their bodies are working overtime. The NCI says that at least half of all cancer patients have sleep-related problems, but that there are many things you can do to help sleep better and longer.

Tips to Get More Sleep:

  • Avoid naps after 3 p.m.
  • Avoid caffeine at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol late at night.
  • Try to exercise regularly and at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.*
  • Try to go to bed the same time every night, and wake up the same time every morning.
  • Have a regular nightly routine before bed.
  • Have a back rub or foot massage before bed.
  • Try light stretching or yoga before bed.
  • Drink warm, non-caffeinated beverages (like tea or milk) before bed.

Exercise can improve your quality and length of sleep. It helps reduce stress and tires you out, but it also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle by raising your body temperature slightly and then lowering it, causing sleepiness. Exercise can be even more helpful to your sleep if you are able to do so outside and can absorb natural sunlight. It does not have to be time consuming, and as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day can make a difference in your quality of sleep. The Cancer Education Center provides Living Well classes (listed below) each week which can help with exercise and improve your quality of sleep:

  • Active Women, Healthy Women

Swedish Edmonds—Ongoing Mondays, 7:00-8:00pm—Auditorium A/B

Swedish Issaquah—Ongoing Mondays, 6:30-7:30pm—1st Floor Flex Space

To register, call 206-732-8350

  • Gentle Yoga & Wellness Skills

Swedish MS Center—Ongoing Tuesdays, 2:30-3:45pm

To register, call 206-991-2099

  • Get Fit! Staying Active During and After Cancer

Swedish Cherry Hill—Ongoing Saturdays, 10:00-11:00am

To register, email:

  • Hawaiian Hula

SCI Edmonds—Ongoing Thursdays, Noon-1:00pm—Radiation Oncology

To register, call 206-386-2895

  • Modified Mat & Chair Pilates

Swedish MS Center—Ongoing Mondays & Fridays

Mat: 10:00-11:00am; Chair: 11:00am-Noon

To register, call 206-991-2099

If your sleep does not improve with these suggestions, talk to your health care team about it. Ask your doctor about prescription medications that may help improve your sleep, or about relaxation therapy. Consider asking some of the following questions at your next visit with your health care team as recommended by the National Cancer Institute:

  • Why am I having trouble sleeping?
  • What problems should I call you about?
  • What steps can I take to sleep better?
  • Would you recommend a sleep therapist?
  • Would sleep medicine be advised for me?

Remember, you do not have to be sleepless just because you are in Seattle!


For more information on ways to improve your sleep throughout your cancer treatment, follow the links below or contact the Cancer Education Center at 206-386-3200.

Swedish Cancer Education Center Website:

American Cancer Society—Sleep Problems:

National Cancer Institute—Sleep Problems and Cancer Treatment:


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