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Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? One Woman’s Mission to Help Others with MPNs

Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine? One Woman’s Mission to Help Others with MPNs from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Could laugher really be the best medicine? Patient advocate Summer Golden explains how she uses comedy to cope with her myelofibrosis (MF) diagnosis and shares her mission to inspire others.

Summer Golden and Jeff Bushnell have been married for over 20 years. When Summer was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), Jeff took on the role of care partner and advocate. Summer uses her years of theatre training and comedy to cope with her condition and help others, while maintaining positivity about the future.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

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Transcript:

Summer:

When I was initially diagnosed after some other false starts with an MPN, I was kind of shocked because I’ve never really been sick, and I don’t take medications, but I didn’t think about it – that sounds crazy; I can’t explain it. I just figured I’d be okay, and the main thing – I didn’t wanna give up this theater.

You know how when you’re my age, people talk about nothing but their illness sometimes? I just never been into that, so it wasn’t part of my personality.

I started doing comedy two years ago because a friend of mine was taking a comedy class, and I went to her showcase, and I thought, “I should try that, even though I’ll never be funny, I have no jokes, and I don’t know what I would say.” But, I went, and I did comedy in clubs for a while, and then I didn’t – I don’t really like drinking and dirty jokes, so I kind of got away from it off and on, and then, when I got into doing it about my myelofibrosis, then I saw a purpose in it, so I went back to it.

I was thinking about whether my life was gonna be changed, how this was gonna change me, so I emailed my comedy teacher in the middle of the night, and I said, “Do comedians ever talk about cancer, having it?” And, he said, “Only if they have it.” So, I emailed him back and I said, “I’m coming back to your class,” so I did. He assigned everyone to be in a showcase. I was gonna do mine about cancer. It was six weeks, so I had to find humor. I don’t know how I find it. I just kind of see things.

I was shocked because I thought people were gonna hate it, and I was gonna quit, and then I’d invited my doctor and two friends, so I thought I’d better not just not show up. But, people came up and said they were inspired. I was just amazed because I mainly –I don’t go out of my way to think of – I do think of things that are funny, but it’s just – it’s a real thing. I try to keep my comedy real.

It’s helped me by being in control. I don’t pay much attention to the symptoms because I’m kind of over them.

Just helped me feel like I’m doing what I can do, and so far, it seems to be working, as long as I get enough sleep.

How do I think comedy could help other people who have health problems? I can tell you one way I thought to help somebody. I wanna start a class for people, but so far, there hasn’t been a lot of interest, but I think I could really help people doing that because I know how to write comedy.

If they really wanna do that, they would be a type of person that has humor, and they could do it, but you’ve gotta realize sometimes, people get a lot out of being sick. There are a lot of rewards, and so, they might prefer to have those rewards. For my way of thinking, if they wanna do humor, it’ll make a big difference, and if somebody wants to do it, they could call me, and I’ll help them.

Three Night Time Activities To Help Cancer Patients Fall Asleep Quickly

Battling cancer is, undoubtedly, tough. On any given day, you might find yourself feeling so sick that you can’t even get out of bed. Being relegated to bed and struggling to even fall asleep can feel utterly disheartening. Adopting some healthy habits in your sleep routine can help to ease your body and mind into sleep more quickly and easily, letting you get some much needed rest and recharge.

Why Does Cancer Alter Your Sleep?

There are a lot of side-effects that you might experience as a result of your cancer treatment. Though one of the most common side-effects is fatigue, many patients also find that they have difficulty sleeping, which only exacerbates their feeling of  fatigue and sleep-deprivation. These sleeping problems can be the result of many factors such as newly developed sleep disorders, physical triggers, and psychological triggers.

Sleep Disorders

It is incredibly common for cancer patients to experience insomnia, which refers to any number of factors that make it difficult for someone to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. People with a serious illness are at an increased risk for insomnia. In fact, while about 20% to 30% of the healthy population suffers insomnia, over half of all cancer patients have reported facing periods of insomnia.

To be clear, insomnia is not caused by cancer, but it is a precipitating issue that results from the physical and emotional stress that often accompanies a cancer diagnosis.

Other sleep disorders may also manifest, such as sleep apnea, hypersomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, parasomnia, and restless leg syndrome. All of these make it difficult for sufferers to fall asleep and sleep soundly through the night, therefore deteriorating sleep quality and causing daytime fatigue and exhaustion.

Physical Triggers

Cancer can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, which makes it understandably difficult to fall asleep as well. Tumors and treatments alike may result in troublesome pressure in isolated spots on the body or all throughout, as well as gastrointestinal issues, breathing problems, fevers and itching, to name just a few physical symptoms. When your body is uncomfortable, it is incredibly difficult to relax and lull yourself into restful sleep.

Psychological Triggers

Additionally, cancer comes with its fair share of life changes and psychological stressors. Fear and anxiety related to your diagnosis and prognosis alone can be enough to keep you up at night.

Following your diagnosis, you might also experience career, relationship, and body image changes which cause additional stress. We understand that cancer can be a distressing experience, and many patients are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression.

If you are experiencing any troublesome side-effects, whether they are related to your sleep pattern, your physical well-being, or your mental health, it is important to consult your oncologist and other medical professionals for their advice and assistance in easing your symptoms.

How Having A Routine Makes It Easier To Fall Asleep And Sleep Well

For the sake of your health and quality of life, sleep is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself. A good night’s sleep can increase productivity, improve mood, and expedite the body’s natural healing processes. This is a vital part of everyone’s life, not just those who are battling illness—still, up to half of all Americans report not getting enough high-quality sleep each night.

If you are kept up by physical pain or emotional stress, implementing a bedtime routine that works to calm your mind and body in preparation for sleep might be the change that you need. Your routine does not have to be overly complicated, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of time or energy in the evening, but a few moments of intentionality before bed can work wonders for your sleep quality and relieve daytime fatigue and sleepiness.

1) Take A Bath

We all like to be warm and cozy in bed at night (hello, fuzzy blankets!) but it is actually really important for your core body temperature to be fairly cool in order to induce sleep effectively. Our bodies follow circadian rhythms which dictate when to sleep and when to wake up. At night, your body naturally cools down and begins to release melatonin and other sleep hormones. Taking a bath or warm shower before bed can have several positive benefits to your sleep, not the least of which being a reduction in your core body temperature.

It may seem counterintuitive that soaking in hot water helps to cool you down, but when you get out of the tub the water begins to evaporate from your skin, cooling your core and cuing your circadian rhythm to do its thing. Baths also improve circulation, ease aches and pains, and help you relax and disconnect before bed.

If you decide to implement a bath or shower into your bedtime routine, go ahead and make it a real treat for yourself. Even just fifteen minutes of uninterrupted relaxation time can have major benefits. Light a calming candle or turn on soothing music, allow yourself to let go of any stressful thoughts or to dos and just breathe. We recommend bathing about one to two hours before bed so that your body has enough time to fully cool down and reap all the cleansing rewards of your pre-slumber soak.

2) Stretch

Practicing some simple yoga stretches before bed can also help sooth your mind and body before bed. In fact, exercising regularly has been seen to have major benefits on sleep quality. Even if you are someone who abhors spending time in the gym or for whom running is a form of torture, you can get in touch with your body and improve your sleep with just a few gentle stretches or a basic yoga practice before bed.

Getting your body moving releases endorphins and enhances mental clarity. If you plan on participating in a workout where you break a bit more of a sweat, we recommend scheduling that earlier in the day so your body isn’t too warm or wired before bed. Stretching and breathing exercises, however, have the same positive benefits and can be done right before bed as they help to relax your mind and body.

Not only does yoga loosen up your muscles and help to relieve pain, it also encourages mindfulness and developing a trust in one’s own body. After a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to have faith in your body’s ability to keep you healthy. When you practice yoga, however, the process allows you to see your strength and flexibility improve over time. You will be amazed by what your body is able to do!

Getting in touch with your mind and body through a yoga practice or stretching routine has also been seen to have positive spiritual benefits for practitioners. No matter what your spiritual discipline is, taking time out of your day to clear your mind and ground your body can be enlightening and spiritually encouraging. Use the time that you are stretching to engage in prayer, meditation, or simply focus on controlling your breathing.

3) Keep A Journal 

Do you find that as soon as your head hits your pillow it begins swirling with all of your unfinished tasks and worries? You are not alone! Writing in a journal each night before bed can help to ease your mind and stave off stress and anxiety that commonly keeps you up at night.

What you decide to write is up to you. You can jot down a recount of what you did throughout the day, or make a plan for what you intend on doing the following day. Perhaps you have a mantra of aspiration phrase that encourages you? Try writing this down each night or compose a list of things that you are grateful for or proud of from each day. If you are struggling with day time fatigue, using your journal as a place to record your daily fatigue level (on a scale of 1-10) and the activities that you participated in throughout the day can be useful for figuring out your fatigue triggers and working to manage your energy efficiently.

Ultimately, having a place to clear your head and process your thoughts is a great addition to any bedtime routine. It does not have to take a whole lot of time, nor does it have to follow any sort of structure. This journal should be for you and you alone, so don’t overthink it, just get to jotting (and then get to snoozing!)

Wrapping Up 

Ultimately, changing your routine can create a sense of regularity and control, helping to ease your mind and body into sleep. Routine changes, however, are no substitute for medical care and a strong support system. So, if you are having trouble sleeping, do not hesitate to mention it to your doctor as this might be a symptom of a larger problem.

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What can YOU do to make a positive impact on your overall MPN care? Researchers Dr. Jennifer Huberty and Ryan Eckert review the latest research on how movement and diet can benefit people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

Ryan Eckert currently works at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ryan is the Research Coordinator for the MPN QoL Study Group and assists in research related to complementary health approaches in myeloproliferative neoplasms and other hematological disorders. More about Ryan here: mpnqol.com/research-team.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Ryan:

So, as far as the benefits of exercise for MPN patients, there’s many, and so, I guess starting with cancers as a whole, there’s a lot more research that’s been done in recent decades that looks at the effects of various forms of exercise and physical activity on other cancers. They just tend – researchers tend to do a lot more of that work in breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, et cetera.

And so, the research in exercise for MPN patients is actually really new, and nobody outside of Dr. Huberty in conjunction with Dr. Mesa and a few other researchers have done any research related to exercise specifically in MPN patients. Our yoga studies that we’ve done have been the first venture down that route for MPN patients. But, what we do know in general is that exercise has obviously systemic effects across the whole body.

So, you’re gonna get health benefits just in general from exercise, but as far as for MPN patients specifically, some of the things that we’ve seen with our yoga studies, which is obviously a form of physical activity, is that we’ve seen sleep improve in MPN patients, so we’ve seen a reduction in sleep disturbances or disruptions in their sleep, a quicker time to fall asleep, and then, less waking up throughout the night – so, just better sleep in general.

We’ve seen some reductions in fatigue that have been reported by MPN patients who have gone through our yoga studies, and then, we’ve also seen a few other reductions in some other symptoms, such as anxiety and reduced depressive symptoms, a little bit of reduced pain is another one we’ve seen. So, just in general, we’ve seen some of those effects on MPN patients through some of our yoga studies.

Dr. Huberty:

So, in terms of adding to what Ryan just said, I would just say that exercise – maybe yoga or walking – is good for your body. It’s good for your health. It’s a recommendation that we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. The more that MPN patients can be achieving that goal towards 150 minutes – yoga counting at that – the better off they’re gonna be, and it doesn’t have to be going for a run.

It can simply be going for a walk around the block. It can be standing at your desk when you’re working instead of sitting all the time. That’s not necessarily activity per se, but it is moving your body and less sedentary. So, I think just focusing on the more that patients can move their body every day, the better off they’re gonna be.

Dr. Huberty:                

So, yeah, the role of diet in MPN patients – so, this is the beauty about the quality of life study group, because we have all these wonderful investigators that are part of the team, and we do have Dr. Robyn Scherber, who’s at Mays with Dr. Ruben Mesa. She’s doing some work with keto diet right now, so it’s very new, so I don’t know if you’re familiar with the keto diet, but it’s very high-fat and very low-carbohydrate, extremely low levels of carbohydrates. I wouldn’t tell any patient to go start doing those things unless they’ve talked to their physician for sure, but we do know that based on how you eat does certain things to your body.

So, MPNs have high inflammatory markers, and so, we wanna decrease inflammation; we probably wanna eat foods that are going to be anti-inflammatory. So, berries, let’s say, is a good example of fruits that are anti-inflammatory, almonds are anti-inflammatory, and I’m not a dietitian by any means, it’s just that things that I know to be true for my own diet because everybody should be thinking about having an anti-inflammatory diet.

Processed foods are not healthy. They are higher-inflammatory. Breakfast foods, eating out, and the foods that you get when you eat out a lot are going to be more inflammatory than not. So, just those small things – lots of vegetables. Vegetables are very good. Lots of greens. But, there is research going on – again, just like exercise and yoga, it’s in its infancy because MPN has been an under-studied population for years, and we’re trying to power through and make that difference.

Helping Cancer Survivors Sleep

This blog was originally published by Cancer Today by Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, here.

A clinical trial comparing acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy found that they are both helpful for people who are experiencing sleep problems after cancer treatment.

​Photo by Marjot​ / iStock / Getty Images Plus

PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED with cancer often face sleep problems stemming from the physical effects of cancer treatment as well as psychological or spiritual concerns related to the diagnosis.

A randomized clinical trial published April 9, 2019, in the​ Jo​urnal of the National Cancer Institute​ compared cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) and acupuncture in patients who had completed treatment for a variety of cancers. Study results showed that participants assigned to the CBTi group experienced a greater reduction in insomnia severity over the course of the study compared with the acupuncture group. However, survivors treated with acupuncture also experienced meaningful improvement in their sleep.

The researchers assigned 80 patients to receive CBTi from therapists trained in the technique over the course of eight weeks. CBTi has previously been shown to be effective in improving sleep in cancer survivors. The therapy works in part by modifying unhelpful beliefs about sleep and providing relaxation training. Patients are also asked to limit their time in bed and use it only for sleep and sexual activity. Another 80 patients were assigned to receive acupuncture over the course of eight weeks. Participants in the study were 62 years old, on average, and had completed active cancer treatment.

The researchers asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire asking about insomnia symptoms both before and after receiving treatment for insomnia. Patients reported significant improvements after receiving either CBTi or acupuncture, both when surveyed immediately after their course of treatment for insomnia and about three months later.

“While overall we found that there is a statistically significant benefit of CBTi over acupuncture, the difference is actually small,” says Jun Mao, chief of integrative medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who led the study. “I certainly think both treatments produce clinically meaningful outcomes and they persist.”

When they looked more closely at subgroups of patients, Mao and his research team found that CBTi was only significantly better than acupuncture at reducing insomnia for males, white people, people who had graduated from college and people without significant pain. For other groups, the two treatments had a similar effect.

Poor sleep can have a variety of effects, including increased pain, depression and fatigue, says Sandra Mitchell, a research scientist and program director in the Outcomes Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, who was not involved in the study.

Although Mitchell says she believes additional studies are needed to look at the long-term effects of acupuncture and CBTi management, she says, “This study yields important and clinically actionable results that patients and providers can utilize in a shared decision-making approach.”

Weidong Lu, lead oncology acupuncturist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says today many patients with insomnia are first put on medications, which can cause side effects. “I think it’s best starting patients on nonpharmaceuticals for mild- and moderate-level insomnia. Severe, long-term insomnia probably needs a combination approach” that includes drugs and other therapies, such as acupuncture and CBT, says Lu, who was also not involved in the study.

The trial was supported in part by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), a nongovernmental organization funded through a trust established by the Affordable Care Act to carry out research guided by patients and caregivers.

Jodi MacLeod of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, was one of the patient partners who provided input into the design and execution of the clinical trial. She was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2004.

After treatment, “the expectation was that I would return to being a normal stay-at-home mom, but my insomnia was really disruptive,” she recalls. Her sleep problems led to mental fog and fatigue. Eventually, MacLeod’s husband rearranged his work schedule to help take care of their three young children.

“Back then, in 2005, insomnia and cancer wasn’t well researched and recognized. I actually thought it was my fault,” says MacLeod of her difficulty in sleeping.

MacLeod met Mao in 2006 when she enrolled in a study he was conducting at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on acupuncture and cancer-related joint pain. When Mao was ready to do his PCORI-funded research on cancer and sleep, he reached out to MacLeod for her help.

Among other contributions, MacLeod and her fellow patient advisers helped decide what questions the study would seek to answer, shape inclusion and exclusion criteria for the trial and recruit a diverse group of patients to participate, as described in a 2017 paper​ that MacLeod co-authored.

“It is satisfying and empowering to know that we’re leaving the cancer waiting room better than we found it,” says MacLeod. “Cancer patients now don’t have to go through what I did, because now there are effective insomnia treatments available.” 

Cheryl Platzman Weinstock is a journalist who reports on health and science research and its impact on society.​

The Importance of Sleep for Cancer Patients

Why sleep should be a main priority for those battling cancer

Experiencing trouble sleeping is common in both adults and children. There are many contributing factors as to why it’s difficult to get the sleep we want and need. Perhaps our sleep environment is not conducive, something is weighing on us mentally, or our children are awake at night. Sleep apnea or insomnia could also be playing a role. In addition to other protective factors, like proper nutrition and regular exercise, sleep is extremely important for our overall health. When something else is going on with our body that affects our health, such as a cancer diagnosis, it’s doubly as important in those cases.

About one third to one half of cancer patients report sleep disturbances. Many report having insomnia and feeling as though it is difficult to sleep at all. The percentage of cancer patients who report feeling this way is almost double the general population. For cancer patients, there are unfortunately a slew of reasons at play that are contributing and making sleep very hard to come by. At various points in time, getting the rest your body needs may prove difficult. Understanding the reasons sleep may be nonexistent is the first step in moving towards a solution. Next, implementing strategies to support restful sleep will increase your body’s energy and its ability to heal. Sleep heals us. Many people focus on the cancer treatment itself, followed by things that are known to make us stronger, such as eating protein and going for walks. Often sleep is overlooked as a crucial part of a cancer patients overall treatment plan.

So, why is it that cancer patients struggle to sleep in the first place? There are different reasons and every patient will react differently, physically and emotionally, to the journey of battling cancer. Some common problems include:

Stress/ anxiety about their diagnosis

It’s normal for our mind to race when we are worried or concerned. Throughout different stages of treatment, patients have a variety of stressors that may affect them such as fear of the future, telling their friends and family their diagnosis, as well as financial, work-related and/ or relationship concerns as well.

Interrupted sleep environments

Often when someone is getting cancer treatment, friends and family may offer to come to their home and help. While that is a kind gesture, it can also be problematic as sometimes it’s hard to get adequate sleep if there are guests in one’s home. Keeping this in mind and setting healthy boundaries is important for the patient and whomever they share their home with.

Symptoms, such as nausea and headaches, from treatment

Depending on the intensity of the symptoms and their duration, asking your Doctor/ care team for support on managing those adverse side effects will prove to be helpful. They may have some tips and ideas for how to specifically combat the symptoms, allowing more time for restful sleep.

Pain in one’s body from the cancer

Most cancer patients report the aches and pains in their body interrupt their ability to fall and stay asleep. Stretching, yoga, staying warm/ hydrated, medication, and other forms of pain management/ medication can be used. The more this overall pain is managed, the more the patient will be able to rest and heal.

Excessive sleepiness during the day

Cancer takes a major toll on one’s body. During the day, especially if the person has not slept well at night, they may be extremely fatigued. This pattern throws off the body’s normal sleep cycles and its circadian rhythm. It may be difficult for patients to regain their nighttime sleep in these scenarios.

 

There are a variety of reasons why sleep is vital if you are in any stage of cancer treatment. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer lower and weaken one’s immune system. Chemotherapy, a common cancer treatment, can affect the immune system for quite some time, even after the patient is done with those treatments. According to The National Sleep Foundation, sleep is a major component when it comes to boosting the immune system. “Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye.”

Targeting inflammation is also especially important for cancer patients, seeing as the body can become inflamed from the cancer itself and/ or the commonly used treatments for it. Reducing the inflammation in the body helps its ability to fight off infection and heal.

Besides building up the immune system, being well rested is also important because it improves our mood and decision-making skills. There are many decisions that need to be made by the patient and family, such as length of treatment, treatments they are willing to try, treatments they are opposed to, etc. Being well-rested helps people to be more energized and have a clearer, calmer ground to make these difficult choices from. Extreme fatigue can lead to (or contribute to pre-existing) mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. In order to make sound decisions for one’s physical, mental, and emotional health, sleep is an important factor that should always be prioritized.

If someone in your life is suffering from cancer, it’s common to bring a meal or offer a ride to an appointment. These are wonderful ways to support that person. In addition, perhaps consider offering to watch their kids in the afternoons so they can take a nap or take household chores and errands off their plate to lower their stress and hopefully improve their ability to gain extra consistent sleep.

If you are a cancer patient do not be afraid to advocate to the people around you so you can best meet your sleep needs. This could mean asking your Doctor about symptoms that affect your sleep or asking your partner to help you get as much sleep at home as possible. That time while you are resting is crucial for your body as it fights the cancer, as well as your overall health too.

How Anxiety Impacts Sleep

Anxieties from the day can be inescapable by night. You can try so hard to sleep or to stay asleep, but worrisome thoughts cloud your mind and make it impossible to clear your mind enough to doze off. Issues like money, children, and work can seem overwhelming, where such anxiety-provoking topics develop into stress that causes your mind and body to stay awake. So what can you do?

Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

There are several comorbid factors to stress that can be problematic sources of your insomnia as well. Don’t let anxiety or these related matters control you though. Instead of trying to control the stressors in your life by thinking of them all the time, focus instead on what you can actually control:

Your Sleep Space

Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash 

Make your bedroom a stress-free sanctuary. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, and use it only for sex and sleep. Since you can’t completely control anxiety, eliminate any other threats to your sleep quality, such as what type of mattress you sleep on. Consider what would the right mattress feel like for you, based on your individual sleep preferences. Use a fan to drown out extra noise, and make sure your pillows are comfortable too. Turn any clock away from you so you don’t get stressed out by seeing it is very late, if you are still awake. If you don’t fall asleep in 15 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing in another room.

Your Routine

Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

 Establishing daily and nightly routines is key for regular sleep, even on the weekends. Block out seven to nine hours for sleep every night, and make sure you wake up at the same time on both weekdays and the weekend. Stop consuming nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine at least three hours before your set bedtime, and avoid working, watching TV, or using a handheld mobile device in bed right before you try to fall asleep. Make it habit to set aside 30 minutes prior to bed to read, listen to soft music, or meditate, so you can relax, clear your mind, and settle into your bed as a stress-free tranquil zone.

How You are Staying Active

Photo by Taylor Jacobs on Unsplash

 How active you are during the day impacts your sleep quality as well. Exercise is excellent for both physical and mental health, where exercising regularly helps you establish regular sleep patterns. You can take out your frustrations in exercise, where you leave the gym with a worry and frustration free head. Exercise also produces mood-enhancing endorphins – just remember to exercise only in the morning or afternoon, as those same endorphins will keep you up if you exercise right before bedtime. And your exercise doesn’t have to be major – even one brisk walk around your neighborhood each day has been demonstrated to help alleviate chronic insomnia. As exercise has been demonstrated to help you develop strength both physically and mentally, remember that mental health is a factor to also be considered when placing value and effort in improving your sleep life.

While increasing anxiety and decreasing sleep can seem like a never ending cycle, you can put an end to what feels so frustrating. By putting these principles and guidelines into practice, you are being proactive in making a difference for you. If you still have difficulty falling or staying asleep, reach out to family and friends for support, and consider seeing a therapist.

How Grieving Impacts Sleep

For those suffering from cancer or experiencing a loved suffer from cancer, sleepless nights are most likely all too familiar. For those who have lost a loved one to their battle with cancer, we grieve with you and sympathize for you. Know you are not alone in your pain when memories of the past creep into your thoughts each night as you go to bed.

Dealing with grief is a distressing experience that is accompanied by intense physical and emotional symptoms. Some of which include: low energy, anxiety, headaches, digestive issues, and most commonly, insomnia.

Insomnia is a difficulty of falling and staying asleep. Oftentimes, insomnia is a result of stress and anxiety. In grief, thoughts of loss consume one’s mind making it hard to relax and fall asleep. Oftentimes, individuals who are grieving wake up from dreaming about a deceased loved one as their brain processes the grief. The danger that comes to those who are grieving is when so much sleep is lost one becomes sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation only intensifies the symptoms of grieving, making day-to-day life even more challenging to manage.

 

So What Can One Do?

 

1. Consider therapy

It’s often anxious thoughts and the devastation of loss that keeps someone dealing with grief up at night. However, therapy can help you process your anxieties and identify harmful thoughts to replace with healthier ones. Sometimes verbally processing our fears is the best line of defense we have against the anxieties that haunt us at night.

2. Maintain a sleep schedule

As hard as it may be to fall asleep, it’s important to try and keep a consistent bedtime each and every night. Keeping a steady schedule will help you get a more regular amount of sleep on a nightly basis. Do you best to avoid naps during the day as they make it harder to fall asleep at night.

3. Exercise

Try exercise as a natural remedy to sleep. Physical activity releases endorphins which help improve mood and physical well-being. Additionally, working out helps physically tire your body so you can sleep better at night.

4. Create a wind down routine

At the end of the day, our brains don’t magically power down. Rather, they need to be primed for sleep (especially if racing thoughts keep you up at night). Draw yourself a hot bath, stash the screens, dim the lights, and pick up a book. This will help quiet and relax your mind for sleep.

5. Create a space conducive for sleep

Although you may little control over you ability to physically fall asleep, you do have control over your sleeping environment which has the biggest impact on sleep quality.

Start with your mattress—the performance tool to getting your best sleep. Perhaps you shared your bed with your deceased loved one. Those painful memories could keep you up a night. If that’s the case, it may be helpful to get a new bed altogether. Maybe it’s simply making the space as conducive for sleep as possible. Make sure your room is rid of light pollution and noise disruption. Neutral tones are psychologically proven to help us relax, so consider softening the palette of your bedroom.

6. Finally, keep realistic expectations

Last but not least, keep realistic expectations. When dealing with grief, it can take a bit of time for sleep to become normal again. The important thing is that you make an effort to protect your sleep. It will give you the strength you need to faced the day.

Sleep Deprivation Caused By Cancer

Both the scientific and medical community agree that the average adult requires at least 7 hours or more of sleep each night to maintain general good health and well-being according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Sleep deprivation is an issue for people with medical conditions like musculoskeletal cancer, with a lack of sleep exacerbating the medical condition further. Read on to find out more.

Causes of sleep deprivation in cancer patients 

Sleep disorders, such as difficulty falling asleep, maintaining a sleep period, disruptive sleeping patterns, early awakening, and excessive daytime sleepiness, are prevalent in patients with cancer. Research by the National Cancer Institute indicate that up to 50% of Americans experience sleep deprivation during or after cancer treatment.

The causal factors that may lead to sleep disruption for cancer patients can be side effects experienced from the treatment, medication being taken, protracted stay hospital visits and the stress. The physical changes caused by the cancer can create biochemical changes that can impact your usual sleeping pattern. If sleep is disturbed over a prolonged period this can lead to fatigue and depression that compounds the other causes.

How can you help improve your sleep?

Sleep is important for us all but, for cancer patients it can be a critical need in the recovery process. There are several steps that can be taken to help improve your sleep. Assess your sleeping environment to see if it can be improved to make sleep more comfortable. You may need to consider changing your bed or mattress to improve sleep quality; is the bedroom too hot or cold; is noise a factor for example external or a snoring partner.

Discuss your sleep problem with a medical practitioner who can decide if sleep therapy treatment such as light and stimulant therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy that has been shown to help 70-80% of cancer patients with their sleep. Also, try relaxation exercises before bedtime and there are several different sleeping applications available that can help you.

For those with cancer the stress and anxiety caused by the condition and treatment can naturally lead to sleep deprivation. It is important to understand that this is common for cancer patients and there is help available and things that can be done to help with the problem.