Mental Health Awareness Week: 10 tips to manage sleep problems

4 minute read time.

Mental health awareness week

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To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Content Developer Azmina explores how sleep affects our mental well-being and gives 10 practical tips for managing sleep problems.

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 18 to 24 May 2020. This year, the theme is how sleep or a lack of it can affect how we feel and our mental health.

Many people affected by cancer can have trouble sleeping. This is called insomnia and may happen for different reasons. For example, general anxiety, worries about treatment or fears about the future may be keeping you awake. Physical problems, such as pain, discomfort or feeling unwell, and some medicines used to treat cancer can also disrupt your sleep.

There are 3 main types of sleep problems:

  • Problems getting to sleep (lying awake at night).
  • Problems staying asleep (waking up and not being able to get back to sleep).
  • Poor quality sleep (waking up feeling unrefreshed).

Losing one night of sleep will not have any effect other than making you feel tired the next day. But long periods of not sleeping well can lead to other problems, such as anxiety, depression and finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions.

There are things you can do to try and improve your sleep and well-being.

10 practical tips to help you sleep

  • Keep to a regular sleep pattern
    Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time each day, even after a sleepless night. This will help your body get into a good sleep routine.
  • Think about what you eat and drink close to bedtime
    Avoid eating a big meal late at night or drinking alcohol, tea or coffee at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Try having a warm, milky drink before bed.
  • Have a relaxing routine before bed
    It is important to make time to unwind and calm your body and mind at least 1 hour before bedtime. You could have a warm bath or shower, read or listen to soothing music.
  • Make your bedroom a relaxing place
    You may sleep better if your bedroom is dark, quiet and comfortably warm. Using thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs may help to create a suitable environment.
  • Write down your concerns or share them on our Online Community
    If you are lying awake and worrying about things, try writing down your concerns to help clear your mind. You can share how you are feeling with others affected by cancer on our Online Community, which is available 24 hours a day.
  • Try breathing and relaxation exercises
    Simple breathing and relaxation exercises can be very useful for reducing stress and anxiety. Try breathing in for 3 seconds, hold this breath for 2 seconds and then breathe out for 3 seconds. You can practise this exercise for a few minutes to help you fall asleep or relax if you wake up feeling panicky. We also have relaxation audio tracks on our Learn Zone website.
  • Try mental exercises
    You can do mental exercises to distract yourself from worries. Try to remember a favourite experience in detail or count things in the room that begin with a specific letter.
  • Avoid clock watching
    It is best to avoid looking at the clock when you are in bed. This will only make you feel anxious and reinforce negative thoughts, such as ‘Oh no, it is so late, and I have still not fallen asleep’.
  • Take a break from trying to sleep
    It is important that you associate lying in bed with calmness. If you cannot sleep, get up and do something relaxing or boring (ideally in another room) until you feel tired. You can then go back to bed.
  • Speak to your doctor
    Some medicines, such as steroids, can make you very alert. Ask your doctor whether you can take them earlier in the day.

Your doctor can also talk to you about treatment options if sleep problems are affecting your daily life. Some therapies can help to change the way that you think, feel and behave when it comes to sleeping, bedtime or worrying at night.

For more tips on coping with sleep problems, you can read the information on our website or order our free booklet How are you feeling? The emotional effects of cancer.


To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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