Many people with who are unwell have sleeping difficulties at some point during their illness. There can be a number of reasons for this, including anxiety and symptoms such as pain and breathlessness. These symptoms can often be treated, so speak to your doctor about them. For example, if you have pain, ask your doctor about long-acting painkillers that will last through the night. Some people may benefit from having a short nap during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can cause problems sleeping at night - try limiting yourself to one or two sleeps each day if you can’t sleep at night. If possible, avoid sleeping in the late afternoon or evening. If you do have difficulty sleeping at night, remember your body will still benefit from lying quietly in bed resting, even if you’re not asleep.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
- Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. Having a long lie-in after a sleepless night can lead to a disrupted sleep pattern.
- Gentle exercise like walking and keeping your mind occupied with activities like reading, games or puzzles will help you feel naturally tired and ready for sleep.
- Get into a relaxing routine before bed. Try having a warm bath or shower, reading or listening to soothing music. Listening to an audio book or a relaxation exercise can also be helpful.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be in. Create an area that’s dark, quiet and comfortable.
- Avoid large meals and stimulants like caffeine or cigarettes in the late evening. Try having a warm, milky drink before bed. Although a small alcoholic drink can help, too much alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep.
- Some medicines, for example steroids, can cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor or nurse whether you could take them earlier in the day. They may suggest you take them before 2pm.
- If you find it difficult to fall asleep, or if you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep again, get up and go to another room. Do something else, like read or watch TV, until you feel tired again.
- If you find that worries or concerns are keeping you awake, write them down. You can then speak to someone about them later.
Sleeplessness can sometimes be a sign of depression. Talking through your worries and concerns may be helpful. Some people benefit from counselling or relaxation therapy. Sometimes a short course of sleeping pills can help you get back to a regular sleeping pattern or help you through a particularly difficult time. They usually work by helping you get to sleep, so they’re best taken before bedtime rather than in the middle of the night.