Woman of color doodling her symptoms causing her insomnia

Insomnia Tips

Before chemotherapy, I bragged about how I could sleep through the night. Never in my life have I ever suffered from insomnia.

Chemotherapy changed all that and it was awful.

Pre-chemo meds affected my sleep for 5 days

Dexamethasone (Dex) was a pre-chemo medicine (steroid) that was used before my chemo was infused. It was also prescribed to me to use for 3 days after the infusion. And on those 3 days, look out! I was an eating machine. That drug made me eat like I was training for an ultramarathon. I woke up every night between 1 and 2am because I was hungry! Never in my life have I been awoken by my stomach growling.

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Dex also made me quite "amped". Like I had drunk 10 cups of coffee. Feeling revved up during the day didn't allow me to sleep so much, but by the evening I was pretty tired. That's why it shocked me that my stomach could wake me up even though I was so tired.

When Dex wore off new symptoms showed up

By Day 5 post-chemo, it seemed as though all the chemo pre-med drugs weren't affecting me anymore with regard to hunger, but that's when my leg pain started kicking in. The chemo drugs were causing my legs to get really stiff and they woke me up because they ached. The only way I could go back to sleep was when I got up and walked up and down the halls. If that didn't work I would set up my yoga mat and stretch my legs for 10 minutes or so. Some nights I felt like the "crypt keeper". Pacing the halls at night to try and relax my legs.

I logged daily in my journal so I could keep track of my symptoms. Especially keeping track of when I was sleeping and what physical symptoms woke up me up at night.

There were times that my legs ached so bad in the middle of the night that I did reach for Tylenol. There was a pattern of when the pain reached its peak and that was usually 7 days post-chemo.

Daily journaling showed patterns

The best advice I can give you to deal with insomnia during active treatment is to log your daily symptoms, and that includes what woke you up in the middle of the night. If you are doing 6 chemotherapy treatments it will really help you when you notice those patterns and set up your life so you can rest.

For example, before we went to bed on Day 1-5 of post-chemotherapy treatments my wife used to cut up 1 apple and butter 2 slices of fresh Italian bread (we have a nearby bakery!). She would place it on the counter in the kitchen so I wouldn't have to prep any food when my stomach woke me up. By the time I ate, I was sleepy again and I had no problem going back to sleep. It would also allow her to sleep because she wouldn't hear me rummaging for food. Why 1 apple and bread? Those were the items that I seemed to crave over and over again.

Here's to a good night's sleep during your active treatment.

What tricks help you get a night's rest while on treatment? Share in the comments!

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