Insomnia means having difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling tired (fatigued). Many people affected by cancer have trouble sleeping, for lots of different reasons.
Insomnia is described as having some or all of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty getting to and staying asleep, or waking up too early.
- Difficulty sleeping despite good conditions for sleep, such as having a comfortable bed in a quiet, darkened room.
- Daytime activities being affected by lack of sleep; for example, problems concentrating at work, falling asleep during the day or starting to feel depressed.
Other types of sleep problems
You may be worried that you have insomnia if you only sleep for a few hours every night. However, some people may only need around six hours sleep a night. Some older adults have less sleep at night, but catch up with a short afternoon nap which can be refreshing. Other people, such as night shift workers or parents with small children, might be sleep deprived. This generally means that they would be able to sleep quite well given the right conditions.
Some people find they wake up several times during the night. They may also feel as though they did not have good-quality sleep. For example, you may not be getting good-quality sleep if you did not experience a deep sleep or do not feel refreshed the next day. This could be because of a change in sleep pattern, possibly due to ageing or a changed environment.
Losing one night’s sleep will not have any effect other than leaving you feeling tired the next day. However, long periods of sleeplessness can lead to anxiety, depression, concentration problems and difficulties making decisions. If you are worried about sleep problems, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse.