Insomnia means having difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling unrefreshed or tired (fatigued). Many people affected by cancer have trouble sleeping, for lots of different reasons.
Insomnia includes having some or all of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty getting to and staying asleep, or waking 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 have a low mood.
Other types of sleep problems
If you only sleep for a few hours every night, you may be worried that you have insomnia. But you may need less sleep if you are doing less. If you do not feel sleepy during the day, you may not need to worry about not sleeping much at night.
Some people 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 but not have insomnia. This generally means that they would be able to sleep quite well given the right conditions.
It is normal to wake briefly at the end of each sleep cycle. A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. As we get older, we sleep less deeply and wake up more during the night. But if you wake up a lot, take a long time to get back to sleep and wake in the morning tired, you may need help to improve your sleep quality.
Losing one night of sleep will not have any effect other than leaving you feeling tired the next day. But long periods of sleeplessness can lead to anxiety, depression, concentration problems and difficulty making decisions. If you are worried that disturbed sleep is affecting how you function during the day, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse.