13th March 2020

Tips to help manage insomnia

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Many people living with lung cancer have trouble sleeping. Medications, symptoms, worries and pain can all play a part in disrupting a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is a necessity for all of us, not just those with lung cancer. It’s vital for growth, and it also helps us to repair and recover both physically and mentally. It helps boost our immune system, which is particularly important for people on some types of chemotherapy.

While restful sleep can help us to think more clearly and positively, finding it hard to sleep can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life and even affect your mental health.

If you are having trouble sleeping, there are small changes that you can make to help improve the quality of your sleep and, seeing as today [13th March] is World Sleep Day, we thought it was the perfect time to share some tried and tested tips to help you to enjoy a restful sleep.

Keep cool

Night sweats are a common symptom of lung cancer and can significantly affect your sleep. Try to cool down with a cold flannel or ice pack on your forehead or wrists for a few minutes. Keep a fan by the bedside to help keep the room temperature low and wear loose fitting clothes to bed.

Take note

Being diagnosed with lung cancer can lead to anxiety and uncertainty. If you are waking up during the night due to worries or concerns, it can help to write down your concerns, so keep a notepad or diary by the side of your bed.

Managing breathlessness

Breathlessness can affect your ability to stay asleep. People with lung cancer often find lying down can make breathlessness worse. Try lying on your side, rather than your back and propping yourself up with additional pillows. This is known as high side lying.

If you are feeling very breathless, try sitting upright for a while until your breathing calms.

Our Managing Symptoms booklet has several tips on managing breathlessness and other helpful advice on living with lung cancer.

Have a bedtime routine

Many people with lung cancer find sticking to a bedtime routine helped improve their insomnia. By going to bed, and waking up, at the same time every day lets your brain know it is time to sleep. It’s also a good idea to avoid any stimulants like coffee and alcohol just before going to bed.

Talk to people who know

Insomnia is a common side effect for people with lung cancer and is often talked about on our forum. The forum allows people to ask questions, share experiences and offer advice at any time of the day or night in a supportive, safe and anonymous environment.

“I think the forum is a godsend to many people. It’s wonderful for patients and their loved ones to share some of their fears and anxieties in a moderated safe space with others who may have already been through the experience.” 


Count sheep

It might be an old stereotype but, counting sheep and other repetitive or rhythmic thoughts can be helpful in getting people to fall asleep. Other mental exercises that you could do are; remembering song lyrics or reciting the alphabet backwards in your mind.

Relaxation therapies

Techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation can often help relax the mind and help you drift off naturally. Complimentary therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and reiki can provide a relaxing atmosphere which may help you sleep.


If you are able to, going for a short walk during the day or in the evening will help build strength and improve the quality of your sleep. It is important to remember that exercise just before bedtime might contribute to disturbing sleep.

Talk to your lung cancer nurse

If pain, symptoms or side effects of treatment are affecting your ability to sleep, your lung cancer nurse or oncologist will be able to advise on any additional medication or treatment to help with insomnia