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Sleep and Cancer

About Cancer

  • Approximately 11 million people in the United States currently have or have had cancer in the past
  • Cancer is a group of diseases where cells grow and multiply outside of normal limits, invade nearby tissues, and spread to other parts of the body
  • Cancer can be caused by external factors such as lifestyle or internal factors such as inherited genes
  • Cancer survival rates continue to improve but cancer is still the second largest killer in the US

Cancer is not just one disease, but a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cellular growth and division. Changing lifestyle can help decrease the chance of cancer – approximately half of the cancer deaths per year could be prevented. For example, male smokers are 23 times more likely to develop lung-cancer than non-smokers.

About Sleep and Cancer

  • Sleep problems and fatigue are the two most common side-effects of cancer treatment
  • Sleep problems are so great in cancer sufferers, that 25-50% of prescriptions written for cancer sufferers are for sleeping pills.
  • Problems, including sleeplessness and poor quality and quantity of sleep can persist years after the end of treatment

The reasons for sleeping problems in cancer sufferers are not completely understood. There is certainly a relationship between pain, stress or worry, cancer-related fatigue (separate to fatigue from lack of sleep), and sleep problems.

Apart from solutions involving prescription drugs, cancer patients who were more active during the day had better sleep. There are also non-chemical, behavioral, approaches to improving sleep quality that have been proven to improve quality of life. Talk to your doctor about sleeping aids and better sleep hygiene.


American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2008. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2008.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health