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Sleep Disorders

Risk Factors

The sleep disorders most likely to affect patients with cancer are insomnias and disorders of the sleep-wake cycle. Effects of tumor growth and cancer treatment that may cause sleep disturbances include:

Long-term use of certain drugs commonly used during cancer treatment may cause insomnia. Stopping or decreasing the use of certain drugs may also cause insomnia.

Some drugs that help patients sleep (such as hypnotics and sedatives) should not be stopped suddenly without the advice of a doctor. Suddenly stopping these medicines may cause nervousness, seizures, and a change in REM sleep that increases dreaming, including nightmares. This change in REM sleep may be dangerous for patients with peptic ulcers or heart conditions.

For more information on managing symptoms and side effects, see PDQ Cancer Information Summaries: Supportive and Palliative Care.

Patients may have sleep interruptions due to treatment schedules, hospital routines, and roommates. Other factors affecting sleep during a hospital stay include noise, temperature, pain, anxiety, and the patient's age. Chronic sleep disturbances can cause irritability, inability to concentrate, depression, and anxiety. While in the hospital, sleep disorders may make it hard for the patient to continue with cancer therapy.