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The Mystery behind Cancer Radiation Therapy and Sleep Disorders

According to a study, patients with advanced cancer who undergo radiation therapy experience anxiety, asthenia, and pain management that makes them have sleep disorders. Cranial irradiation has been found to be a risk factor for sleep disorder, including the somnolence syndrome. Patients who experience sleep problems are usually referred for medical studies, diagnosis, and treatment.

Sleep disturbances are frequent in cancer patients who experience problems related to sleep such as hypersomnia, sleep apnea, parasomnia, and insomnia. Such disorders affect the well-being of the patients’ immune function, cognitive function, quality of waking life and anxiety. Several factors cause sleep disturbance in cancer including tumor-associated symptoms like fever, pain, and shortness of breath, circulating hormone levels, pain, seizure disorders, agents of chemotherapy, consumption of alcohol and use of sedatives or hypnotics.

Sleep disorders associated with radiation depend on the type of cancer, treatment history, patient factors like age and the radiation target fields.

  • Cranial irradiation disrupts the hormone regulation of wakefulness and onset of sleep and also the sleep-wake cycles. Patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia who undergo cranial irradiation frequently experience the somnolence syndrome for six weeks after therapy.
  • Patients with head and neck cancers who undergo accelerated radiation therapy fractionation experience sleep disturbance as well as vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
  • Patients with prior radiation therapy, especially chemotherapy report significant rates of hypersomnia before the therapy.

Sleep management strategies for cancer patients experiencing disorders should include behavioral, cognitive therapy for insomnia with sleep-hygiene practices like fixed bedtime and physical exercise. Ceasing tobacco smoking and avoiding caffeine and alcohol consumption before bedtime helps alleviate insomnia. However, more research is needed to clarify the roles of cancer treatment including radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy, and tumor biology on sleep disorders.


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