4 Ways to Help Children with Cancer Sleep Better

Children with cancer often have difficulty sticking to normal sleep patterns. This sometimes happens because of increased daytime fatigue caused by either the disease itself or their treatments. Medication side effects and schedules sometimes contribute to sleep disturbances as well. Every child with cancer has unique circumstances involved with their care and treatment. Still, there are some ways you may be able to improve your child's ability to enjoy a restful night's sleep if they are also dealing with cancer.

1. Warm Baths or Showers Before Bed

If you notice that your child seems to have more difficulty falling asleep on days when they have their chemo or radiation therapy, it may be added tension and stress from the treatment itself that's affecting their sleep habits. Preparing a warm bath or encouraging them take a soothing, warm shower can relax muscles and naturally ease tension and stress enough to make it easier to nod off to sleep without difficulty.

2. Improve Their Sleep Environment

Some children undergoing cancer treatment become especially sensitive to their surroundings if they have times when they need to sleep overnight in the hospital because of background noise and strange, unfamiliar sounds. This may cause them to have a similar sensitivity to their surroundings at home. Overcome this problem by making your child's sleep environment at home as comforting and relaxing as possible by:

  • Using nightlights if your child can't sleep in total darkness instead of just leaving the door open a crack – doing so can let too much light in
  • Putting on a small fan if there are background noises like street traffic that could distract your child
  • Keeping their bedroom slightly cooler than the rest of the house – cooler temps tend to help the body naturally relax

3. Make Some Diet Changes

Certain foods can make sleep issues even more problematic for children with cancer. Fatty and spicy foods, for instance, can contribute to heartburn or acid reflux, which may make it difficult for your child to stay asleep. Stimulants such as caffeinated beverages should also be minimized or replaced entirely with fruit juices or water. However, milk, bread, and cereal are among the foods that contain tryptophan, a chemical also found in turkey that triggers sleepiness. So, consider allowing your child to have a light snack with such foods shortly before bedtime.

4. Discourage Excessive Daytime Napping

Cancer treatments can wear children out to the point where they just want to take a nap. It's fine to let them take short daytime naps if this is the case, but avoid allowing them to sleep too much during the day. Getting into this habit could throw off their sleep cycle and get them to the point where they are unable to sleep when it's necessary to do so to be properly rested for school the next day.

If efforts to adjust medications and modify treatment plans aren't making much of a difference, there could be a secondary reason for sleep issues that needs to be addressed. For example, some children with cancer have trouble sleeping because of increased stress and anxiety about their condition. If this is the case, family counseling may be beneficial.

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