Awake and can't sleep? Some help with getting through the night

Sleeping grey cat on a bed

Difficulty sleeping, also known as insomnia, can be hard to deal with. If you or a loved one has a cancer diagnosis, not getting enough sleep can sometimes cause additional difficulties. The Online Community is here for you at any time in the day or night. Sleep problems may be caused by how you’re feeling emotionally, or as part of the side effects for cancer treatment. If you find it hard to have a good sleep, you’re not alone. Here in Community News, we’re here to help you find support.

Macmillan has information and support around insomnia and having difficulty sleeping on our website. This webpage discusses different sleep problems, how a lack of good sleep can affect you and how you can change your sleep habits to potentially help you to sleep better.  

“I think night times are often the worst times…That’s why this group is so good because no matter what you feel there will be someone who feels exactly the same and can maybe give you hope that it will get better.”

Community member, ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’ group

There’s always someone else online on the Online Community. Lots of people might be able to really understand how you feel.

In the ‘Breast cancer’ group, members have been using a discussion thread called “AWAKE” to chat and support each other, particularly during the night. Why not read through and join in, or start a discussion in a group that you’re in?

“Why don’t you join us on the AWAKE thread! Even if there’s no one around! There’s lots to read and funny pics to keep your mind off whatever is worrying you!”

Community member, ‘Breast cancer’ group

Lots of members say things like that they can find it helpful just to read posts on the Online Community. It can be reassuring to know that you're not the only one who is struggling to sleep.

Many members have shared their tips for what helps them to sleep. Some members say things like that it can help to get up and do something different.

“I once read that if you can't sleep get up and do something useful. If you are worrying about something get up and break the chain to make a cup of tea or anything to make a break. I often take the hot cup of tea to bed and leave it to cool and often its stone cold when I wake up.”

Community member, ‘Prostate cancer’ group

Something that might keep you and many members awake are questions or worries about a diagnosis or treatment.

“I have been on my cancer journey for 22 years and the one tool I have used is a note book….. it’s sounds simple but it works. The note book is the place where you record EVERY question that comes to mind. The note book goes to all appointments and when the Consultant says ‘have you any questions?’ the note book comes out…The note book also helps your sleep!!!!! As these questions often come at silly-o’clock so get the note book out and write the thoughts down and park them - it does help a lot.”

Community member, ‘Emotional support’ group

What helps you might be different to what helps someone else. Some members have talked about how they’ve tried lots of different ideas before finding what works for them.

“Sometimes I cannot go to sleep no matter how tired I am ,so I just resign myself to reading as my mind is sometimes just so active with nothing in particular. Meditation techniques do not work as my mind seems to go off at a tangent and my ability to concentrate on the mediation is zero!...I have also stopped taking my mobile and tablet into the bedroom, as I would spend hours browsing and that did not help. Also I turn the clock face away from me so I don't know what time it is to worry about. Just rely on the alarm going in the morning!”

Community member, ‘Bowel cancer’ group

Changing your sleep habits can help, but it could be that you need more support. It can be important to make sure that you talk to your GP or health care team if you’re having difficulty sleeping. Your GP or health care team can help you to find what works for you.

“Getting a cancer diagnosis is extremely stressful, and that brings a whole load of emotions, and lack of sleep certainly does not help. I think many of us have periods of insomnia. I experienced a long period of not sleeping. I could go off to sleep quite quickly, but after an hour I would find myself wide awake again, and would spend the rest of the night getting frustrated because I couldn't sleep. I spoke to my GP in the end, and I had a prescription for sleeping tablets, which I took for a short period to try and break the cycle.“

Community member, ‘Pancreatic cancer’ group

Sometimes it can really help to talk about how you feel. Macmillan’s Support Line is available 8am – 8pm, 7 days a week over emaillive webchat or by calling 0808 808 00 00.

If you would like to talk to someone right now, there are services available who can help.

  • Shout Crisis Textline - If you need immediate support, you can text SHOUT to 85258 and talk to a trained volunteer. The service is free on most networks in the UK and available 24 hours a day.
  • The Samaritans helpline – You can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day for free on 116 123. They are also piloting a new webchat service.

“I have found it helpful to write questions for the doctor and emails to people I wish I could talk to but for different reasons I can't right now. But that has helped me get to the morning. And tonight I have also called the Samaritans who were very helpful.”

Community member, ‘New to the Community’ group

Mind, a charity which specialise in mental wellbeing, have some further information on their website around how to cope if you’re struggling to sleep, and ways to improve your sleep habits.

We’ve shared lots of ideas for what might help everyone to have better sleep. However, it’s important to reach out to your GP or medical team if your sleep problems are worrying you or affecting your day to day life.

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. We hope these tips from members on the Online Community might help you. Why don’t you share something that helps you get to sleep below?

Would you like to read more about looking after yourself and managing worries? These related blogs include relaxation techniques and tips to help improve your quality of life:

  • I’m currently still in bed, due to not sleeping last night. 
    rumination is my ruin. It’s at night that all stresses from work reverberate round my head, self worth after cancer and incurable diagnosis, generally I know

    1. reduce alcohol, I regularly have bad night sleep after wine. Last night was cheese and wine
    2. bedding, hormone therapy causes bad night sweats, so choose nightwear carefully 
    3. environment ensure bedroom not too hot or cold
    4. ensure your relaxed for bed. I often use a body scan as a way to switch my mind off
    5. with hot sweats often just getting up and using the toilet helps cool
    6. if all else fails get up go downstairs have a drink (non alcoholic) tea or water, no caffeine 
    7. accept if it hasn’t worked that you take time the next day, again our friend hormone therapy can take its toll especially emotionally, accept you need time the next day else it’s a spiral. I’ve had to take a day off 
  • Hi , thank you for sharing what helps you. I hope you found the blog helpful to read through.