Has cancer caused you to have some sleepless nights? Or several in a row? The physical challenges of treatment side effects- like nausea, hot flashes, frequent bathroom trips to flush out the toxins, pain, sore throat, and the emotional ones, such as financial stress, worry about your health, the strain on your relationships, etc take a toll on our ability to sleep normally. It is more than likely that those sleepless nights have been plentiful. For many, anti-nausea/anti-anxiety meds, like Ativan, become the norm and when that is not enough to do the trick, we add other things like pain medication, melatonin, lavender oil, and guided meditations.
Prior to having cancer, I would have trouble sleeping from time to time. Once I was diagnosed, my mind was very busy, my body was tense, and the struggle began. Knowing that a good night sleep was essential for health, the pressure to get a good night sleep amplified everything. Previously, I might get annoyed if I was struggling to sleep. But once I had cancer, I would be very panicky about it. It was remarkable how quickly I went from generally a good sleeper to someone who struggled with insomnia.
The National Cancer Institute states that between 33-50% of cancer patients struggle with insomnia, whereas the general population is 10-15%. Honestly, I would not be surprised if the number was higher. Independent of those statistics, if you have struggled with insomnia, then you know the significant toll that it takes on one’s body, mind, spirit and sense of self. In fact, as a therapist I often know that if a client is not sleeping well, the work we are doing together will not be effective in the long run until they do.
Furthermore, in my opinion, I was not going to feel fully restored until I was able to reclaim my ability to sleep. However, weaning yourself off of sleep aides is much more challenging than you might anticipate initially. As I slowly worked on the issue, I had to grapple with the anticipatory anxiety as well as physically continuing to address the ongoing physical pain that I felt as the treatment detoxed from my cells. I found that I needed to be incredibly patient with the process, realizing that I needed to surrender not control it.
If you live locally, and want to learn new skills to reduce or eliminate insomnia, Creative Transformations is offering a free workshop on November 2nd at the Cancer Community Center. You can register through this link: https://cancercommunitycenter.org/event/sleep-solutions-insomnia/. If you are looking for an excellent resource to address the issue on your own, I highly recommend the Sleep Book, by Guy Meadows. In the wise words of Dalai Lama “Sleep is the best meditation”.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting: www.creative-transformations.com, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.