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Sleeping Problems in Mesothelioma Patients

Common methods used to treat malignant mesothelioma can wreak havoc on a patient’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. This is particularly problematic because sleep has natural restorative and healing power. Mesothelioma doctors and oncologists often urge patients to get plenty of rest. However, these cancer specialists may not take the time to ask their patients how well they are sleeping. They also may overlook issues of insomnia or other sleep disorders their patients may be battling.

The reasons behind sleep problems during the course of mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment are many. These problems may be related to cancer treatment. However, there is a good possibility sleeping difficulties stem from anxiety and emotional stress. Sleep problems may also be completely unrelated to cancer. No matter the cause, it is important to pinpoint it to get the sleep you need to help you heal and feel better.


Hypersomnia is also known as excessive daytime sleepiness. This condition is best described as pervasive drowsiness that occurs both during the day and at night. Mesothelioma patients suffering from hypersomnia may sleep deeply for ten or more hours at night, yet 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. These patients report no relief from naps or long periods of rest.

Hypersomnia robs mesothelioma patients of valuable time to enjoy activities with their families. It also makes day-to-day life difficult, as simple tasks can become nearly impossible to complete.  Doctor appointments, meals, and mundane activities become a challenge, as you drift off to sleep in the middle of them.

Although many people often mistake hypersomnia for fatigue, they are not the same thing. Fatigue is a lack of energy and is not associated with the inability to stay awake. Fatigue can be caused by mesothelioma itself or specific treatments, including chemotherapy or medications. Ask you physician to check to see whether you are suffering from anemia or orthogonal changes. Managing these symptoms may improve hypersomnia.


Mesothelioma can also make it difficult to get adequate sleep. Cancer itself does not cause insomnia. However, there are many factors related to cancer that can disturb sleep. For example, 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 persistent cough, also make sleep challenging. Side effects of treatment and medications can also trigger insomnia.

The emotional and mental effects of living with cancer may also contribute to sleep dysfunction.  Coping with mesothelioma, its treatments, and facing a shorter life, can all cause stress, anxiety, fear, and depression. This, in turn, can trigger insomnia. Inadequate sleep caused by insomnia can result in even more health problems.

Effects of Sleep Loss on Health

Researchers have found numerous negative ways insomnia 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 is also associated with a shorter lifespan compared to people who regularly get eight hours of sleep.

Inadequate sleep can harm someone living with cancer, but there are also some specific connections. Some studies have determined that inadequate sleep should be considered a human carcinogen. These studies were conducted on people working night shifts and found that late-shift workers had as much as a 50 percent increased risk of developing cancer than their day-shift counterparts.

Sleep Loss and Cancer Recurrence

Because lack of sleep can have a serious impact on health, it is not surprising that research indicates inadequate sleep is risky for cancer patients and those in remission. One study found that lack of sleep is associated with with more aggressive breast cancer tumors. The same study also found that lack of sleep increased the risk of cancer recurrence.

Research into the impact of sleep on patients with mesothelioma is limited, but evidence is clear from other types of cancer. Inadequate sleep is a serious health concern, especially for cancer patients and those in remission.


In addition to hypersomnia and fatigue, many mesothelioma patients suffer from vivid and frightening nightmares. Though nightmares are not uncommon, once a person has received a mesothelioma diagnosis and begins cancer treatment, nightmares can increase in frequency and have a more terrifying impact. Many patients report being afraid to go to sleep for fear of experiencing another terrifying dream. 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 we feel. They are also the way our brains deal with unresolved fears and emotions. Nightmares can also be caused by powerful prescription medications.

If you experience frightening nightmares that disrupt your ability to sleep, talk to your doctor about your problem. There may be a simple solution to the problem. Your doctor may change your medication or suggest you speak to a counselor to work through your fears concerning your mesothelioma diagnosis.

A therapist is someone you can speak to honestly and without fear or reservation. When you discuss your concerns during the day, you may find 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. Sometimes talking about what happens in your dreams is enough to keep them from recurring. Remember that dreams are not predictive. 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

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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