Alberta Cancer Foundation

How To Improve Your Sleep

Insomnia and sleep disturbances affect 30 to 50 per cent of patients, roughly three times the general population. Treatments such as chemotherapy, steroids and pain medications, along with stress, can contribute to insomnia that lasts years after treatment, I-CAN Sleep reported in a 2011 study.

The I-CAN Sleep study, a partnership between Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary, compared mindfulness-based stress reduction to cognitive behavioural therapy for treating insomnia among cancer patients, explains Sheila Garland, an I-CAN Sleep co-ordinator. The group was the first in Canada to investigate sleep patterns in cancer patients, leading to an eight-week program to retrain current and former cancer patients into getting more shuteye. Participants wear a wrist monitor that tracks their sleeping habits for a week and they learn relaxation and stress-reduction techniques. The result? Some patients who slept only two to three hours a night now sleep six or seven.

“I’d get home from work and crash because I had no energy,” one patient with leukemia told The Calgary Sun. “[Now] I’m up to six and a half hours of sleep, some nights seven.” That’s what might be called a dream outcome.

Need help? To learn more about the free program, which is held at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, or to see if you qualify, call 1-877-SLEEP40 or email

Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

W.C. Fields once said that sleep is the best cure for insomnia.  If only it were that easy. But there are a few tricks and techniques to get more shuteye.

1. Just say no: To caffeine and alcohol, that is. Alcohol dehydrates and can wake you up in the middle of the night. Caffeine, found in everything from chocolate to cola to coffee, can affect you hours after consumption.

2. Meditate: Stress can negatively impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. Guided meditation, as part of an overall stress reduction program, can help calm the worrying mind.

3. Practise good sleep hygiene: “Sleep hygiene” simply means optimizing your bedroom for sleep. Keep the temperature at around 18°C, block out all light and restrict your bedroom to just sleeping and sex. Leave your iPad in the living room.

4. Find your “ZQ”: Zeo Sleep Manager is a device you wear that purports to tracks your sleep intelligence, or ZQ, by charting your night’s sleep and sending the results to your smart phone. If you track how much restorative sleep you get, the theory goes, you can monitor and mitigate factors affecting your sleep, such as medication, caffeine, stress and others.

5. Move it: Exercising three times a week can improve the quality and duration of your sleep, which can reduce pain. Researchers from Taipei Medical University, Wan-Fang Hospital in Taiwan found that cancer patients who exercised moderately improved their sleep and reduced physical pain.

6. Turn it off: Follow a “no screens” rule after 9 p.m. The National Sleep Foundation, in the U.S., found that many people lose sleep due to use of electronic devices. Screens stimulate your brain when you should be winding down before bed.

7. Sleep less: Sleep restriction therapy, sometimes used for severe insomnia, limits how long you stay in bed. The goal is to reset your sleep drive so you spend less time tossing and turning and more time in truly restful slumber.

8. Drink milk: Your mother was right. A small mug of warm milk can help you fall asleep thanks to the amino acid tryptophan it contains, which your body converts to serotonin.

9. Banish the clock: 3:01 a.m. 3:04 a.m. 3:09 a.m. Checking the time every, say, five minutes, is a good way to ensure you’ll be up all night.

10. Rise and shine: Waking up at the same time every day, no matter when you went to sleep, sets your internal clock and leads to fewer ups and downs in your sleep routine.