Depression, tension and stress are common contributors to sleep problems, causing early waking or difficulty dropping off when thoughts race around the brain. If stress is making you or your relative sleep badly, don’t rush for medication; instead, try practising the relaxation techniques. Be aware that older people naturally take longer to fall asleep, are more likely to wake during the night and tend to wake earlier in the morning. However, if sleep disturbance continues or if early waking is a problem do encourage your relative to discuss this with their doctor as these symptoms are a sign of depression which can be treated.
Tips to help settle at night
– Go to bed at a regular time, with a regular routine.
– Make everything as cosy as possible – a warm room and a com¬fortable bed.
– Don’t eat a rich, heavy meal late in the day.
– Avoid stimulating drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine later in the day and choose a milky drink at bedtime.
– Cut back on evening fluids if a full bladder is the cause of waking.
– Read or listen to the radio until you naturally feel sleepy. If you wake in the night do the same or get up and watch some tele¬vision and repeat the milky drink with a biscuit if you are feeling hungry – don’t he tossing and turning.
– Take regular exercise, but don’t be too active late in the day as strenuous exercise releases hormones that are stimulating.
– Rest and cat-nap during the day but resist having too long a sleep as this simply reduces the amount needed at night.
Dealing with extreme tiredness
Fatigue is more than being ‘tired’, it is feeling completely exhausted most of the time. Extreme tiredness is a problem that almost all cancer patients experience at some time, partic¬ularly during treatment. Symptoms of fatigue may create difficulty in coping with the most basic, everyday activities such as climbing stairs, brushing teeth and eating food. Short¬ness of breath is common and many patients find it too arduous to carry on a conversation, concentrate to read or even watch the television.