Sleeping Problems in Mesothelioma Patients
It is well known that the various treatments that are used in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma can wreak havoc on a patient’s ability to get a good night’s sleep, and this is particularly problematic because sleep has been shown to have restorative, healing powers. Mesothelioma doctors and oncologists often urge their patients to make sure that they are getting plenty of rest, but they may not take the time to actually ask their patients how well they are sleeping, or to help them address issues of insomnia or other sleep disorders that they may be battling.
The reasons for having sleep problems during the course of your mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment are many. It may be an issue of your cancer treatment, but there is also a very good chance that your difficulties stem from the anxiety and emotional stress of your diagnosis. It may also be completely unrelated to your cancer. No matter what the cause, it is important to try to pinpoint it so that you can get relief from sleep deprivation and get the sleep that you need to help yourself feel better.
Hypersomnia is also known as excessive daytime sleepiness. It is best described as pervasive drowsiness that goes on both during the day and during the night. Mesothelioma patients suffering from hypersomnia may sleep deeply for ten or more hours at a time, and even with that amount of sleep they constantly fall asleep during the day. The most alarming aspect of hypersomnia is that no matter how much sleep the patient gets, they never feel as if they have had enough sleep and report no relief from naps or their long bouts of rest.
Hypersomnia robs mesothelioma patients of valuable time enjoying activities with their families. It also makes day-to-day life difficult, as any tasks that you may need to take care of or hobbies that you may get enjoyment out of become impossible to pursue. Even getting to physician appointments or having meals with friends or family may become a challenge, as you drift off to sleep in the middle of them or else beg off of going in favor of staying home and getting more sleep.
People often mistake hypersomnia for fatigue, but they are not the same thing. Fatigue is a lack of energy, and is not associated with the inability to stay awake. It can be caused by the mesothelioma cancer itself or your cancer treatment, including chemotherapy or prescription and over the counter medications that you may be taking, including antidepressants and pain relievers. Ask you physician to check to see whether you are suffering from anemia or changes in various hormone levels, because symptom management is one of the few ways to approach hypersomnia. It cannot be cured without finding the cause and making adjustments.
Another way that mesothelioma affects sleep is by making it more difficult to get adequate sleep. Cancer itself does not cause insomnia, but there are many related factors that can disturb sleep in people living with cancer and being treated for it. For instance, chronic pain is common in cancer patients and can make sleeping difficult if it is not well controlled. Other symptoms of mesothelioma, like difficulty breathing and a persistent cough, may also make sleep challenging. Side effects of treatment and medications can also trigger insomnia.
Emotional and mental effects of living with cancer may lead to sleep dysfunction too. Coping with mesothelioma, its treatments, making important decisions, and facing a shorter life and a lower quality of live, are all factors that can cause stress, anxiety, fear, and depression, and these in turn can trigger insomnia. With insomnia that is not addressed, a cancer patient may suffer from inadequate sleep and that can cause even more health problems.
Effects of Sleep Loss on Health
Researchers have found numerous negative ways in which insomnia and resulting lack of sleep can affect a person’s health. Getting fewer than eight hours of sleep each night for an extended period of time increases a person’s risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Sleep loss is also associated with increased infections and lower immune system function. Lack of sleep has actually been determined to be associated with a shorter lifespan as compared to people who sleep enough most nights.
All of these indicate that not getting enough sleep can harm someone living with cancer, but there are also some more specific connections. Some studies have even determined that sleep disturbance or lack of adequate sleep should be considered a human carcinogen, or something that increases the risk of developing cancer. These studies were conducted on people working night shifts and found that these late-shift workers had as much as a 50 percent greater risk of having cancer than their day-shift counterparts.
Sleep Loss and Cancer Recurrence
Because lack of sleep is proven to have such a serious impact on various aspects of health, even increasing the risk of cancer, it is no surprise to find that some research indicates inadequate sleep is risky for cancer patients and those in remission. One study found that lack of sleep is associated with, not just an increased risk for breast cancer in women, but with more aggressive tumors. The same study also found that lack of sleep increased the risk of cancer recurrence.
Research into the impact of lack of sleep on patients with mesothelioma is limited, but the evidence is clear from other types of cancer. Not getting enough sleep is a serious health concern, especially for anyone at risk for cancer, being treated for cancer, and in remission.
In addition to hypersomnia and fatigue, many people who are being treated for mesothelioma often suffer from particularly vivid and frightening nightmares. Though nightmares in and of themselves are not uncommon, once a person has received a mesothelioma diagnosis and begins cancer treatment they are known to arise far more frequently and with much more terrifying impact. Many patients report being afraid to go to sleep for fear of experiencing another terrifying dream, and this can then result in a vicious cycle of exhaustion during the day followed by terror-filled nights.
Nightmares are generally a reflection of the stress that we are feeling, as well as the way that our brains deal with unresolved fears and emotions, though they can also be caused by the powerful medications that are prescribed for the treatment of mesothelioma’s symptoms, or to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments.
It is important that if you are experiencing frightening nightmares that are disrupting your ability to get the sleep that you need, you speak honestly and openly with your physician about your problem. The answer may be as simple as a change in your medication, or your doctor may suggest that you speak to a behavioral therapist or counselor in order to work through some of your fears and emotions about your mesothelioma diagnosis.
A therapist is a person who you can speak to honestly and without fear or reservation. When you talk to them about your concerns and emotions during the day you may find that you no longer have to face them at night. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with a stranger, then perhaps a friend or family member can help.
Everybody can relate to having frightening nightmares, and sometimes speaking about what happens in your dreams is enough to give you permission not to have them again. Remember that dreams are not predictive and they do not tell your future. Try making up a happier ending for yourself so that the next time you have the same dream, you find it takes a different turn.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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