Disturbed sleep

Illness, treatment and surgery can all take their toll on your energy levels, making you feel very tired and lethargic. Worry and uncertainty associated with your cancer diagnosis are likely to have given you several sleepless nights, and spending time in hospital can often disrupt your sleeping patterns.

It’s not unusual to find that this can be the start of longer-term problems with insomnia, low energy levels or a really deep fatigue that can last for many months after treatment finishes. Tiredness may be linked to other problems, untreated symptoms like pain or anaemia, or other changes in your body. Stress and anxiety can also take their toll and make it difficult to get to sleep, or cause you to wake up again in the small hours of the morning.


If your bowel cancer diagnosis is causing you so much anxiety that you just cannot sleep, it’s worth talking to your GP about self-help strategies or complementary therapies. If necessary, they can refer you to a counsellor or mental health professional, or prescribe medication.


As we get older, sleep can be disturbed by a need to use the toilet and this can be a particular problem after bowel cancer treatment. If you find frequency or urgency of bowel movements during the night is disturbing your sleep, you may wish to talk to your GP about medication such as  loperamide to slow your digestion down.


The worry that you are not getting enough sleep can itself be a problem. If you find yourself awake in the night, tell yourself that relaxing can be as refreshing as sleep. Lie quietly and don’t keep looking at the clock. Allow your thoughts to drift away and focus on things that make you feel happy. A relaxation or meditation CD or podcast can be a way to take your mind off the fact that you are not sleeping and you may actually drift off.


Good sleep habits

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola) for at least four hours before bedtime – try a cup of herbal tea instead.
  • Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol close to bedtime (or give up completely).
  • Be consistent with your bedtime routine.
  • Only go to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Don’t eat or watch TV in bed, but make it a place only for relaxing or sleeping.


For advice on sleep problems please visit the NHS Choices Better Sleep page.