How Chemo Can Impact Your Sleep

How Chemo Can Impact Your Sleep

Sleep Problems

A variety of treatment modalities are now available for kidney cancer, and often two or more of the following are used in combination: surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy doesn’t work so well on its own for this form of cancer, since cancerous cells affecting the kidneys are quite resistant to chemo drugs (cinblastine, floxruridine, 5-FU, capecitabine, gemcatibine are helpful only in very few cases). Therefore, oncologists are typically using chemo therapy only after targeted therapy and immunotherapy had already been tried.

Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy: Sleeping Problems

Talking about sleeping problems in cancer patients, chemotherapy is one of the leading causes. Usually patients experience insomnia – whether they have problems falling asleep at night, or waking up frequently in the middle of the night. As a result, they wake up tired in the morning.

Immunotherapy (which preceded the chemo in patients diagnosed with kidney cancer) is well known to cause fatigue as well.  Naps will be used in an attempt to deal with low energy, but they will further aggravate insomnia at night.

Recent studies reveal that cancer patients who undergo chemo therapy are three times more likely to experience sleeping problems compared with general population.

Why Sleep is So Important

Poor sleep will also affect the mood (aggravating symptoms of depression for example), energy levels, pain and many other symptoms. Sleep indeed has true healing benefits and you may be surprised to find out some problems that you may not think are linked with sleep problems.


For example, sleep deprivation is associated with frequent colds and flu, since the immune system becomes weak if you don’t have enough sleep (and because of cancer, too). Chronic lack of sleep also correlates with an increased risk of heart diseases (including heart attacks), because promotes inflammation in the cardio-vascular system.

Sleep problems creates hormonal imbalances (including abnormal levels of leptin) which leads to obesity (obesity is a risk factor for some form of kidney cancer).

Diabetes can also develop if you don’t get a good night sleep on a regular basis – one study for example shows that people in the 20’s and 30’s who sleep less than 6.5 hours a night have the insulin sensitivity of someone who is three decades older.  Another study shows that one week of lack of sleep causes impaired glucose tolerance.

How to Manage Sleeping Problems

First of all, the doctor has to evaluate and find out the cause of the sleeping problem. Although sleeping problems are one of many side effects of chemotherapy, other factors should be considered as well – for example dexamethasone (used to treat nausea during chemo) is also linked with insomnia. Pain can also wake you up in the middle of the night, and so does depression.

The best way to help your doctor find the cause of your sleeping issues is to keep a sleep diary. Keep track (write down) when you are asleep and awake and any factors that may contribute to your difficulty sleeping at night.

Do not eat, or exercise a couple of hours (and avoid coffee six hours) before going to bed. Avoid naps during the day, and if you can’t – at least keep the naps short (no more than half an hour)


WebMD (Healing Power of Sleep)

American Cancer Society (Chemotherapy for Kidney Cancer)

Chemo Care (Sleep Problems)

Brenda VantaBrenda Vanta

Dr. Brindusa (Brenda) Vanta received her MD from Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine, Romania, and her HD diploma from Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine. Her main focuses are nutrition and homeopathy.

Sep 30, 2014
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