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Battling Insomnia


Sleep and I have a tempestuous relationship, largely unrequited. It seems a pretty common problem for cancer survivors.

For me, it began during pre-diagnosis days. I’d wake every morning at 5AM racked with the pain of an unknown tumour.

Next came the stays in hospital - sleep there is an anathema, hospital stays have been proven to cause chronic insomnia thereafter.  What with the repetitive beeps of the endless machines; the robotic beds moving you around to avoid ulcers; the lights switching on and off throughout the night. I remember fellow patients howling at hallucinated snakes wrapping around their ankles, and midnight emergencies rushing me off to X-ray. Nurses, chatting and laughing to find some joy in the long night shift, were preferable to the 7AM phlebotomy visit: waking you with needles in a brutal search for a vein.

And all the drugs. At first they were welcome: the painkillers that turned my world to a manor house, with dripping chandeliers and velvet curtains. But when these opiates were withdrawn, I became the girl from the Exorcist. Through the night, my bones would itch from Restless Leg Syndrome and I’d stretch my jagged bones for release.

Besides all this, there's the anxiety. The thought spiral. Negative thoughts haunt the night, lingering in wait until the dark hours that you’re left alone with them.

It's enough to give you nightmares. 


It helps having a super understanding GP. They might prescribe zopiclone, a sleeping pill. I always ask for it if I sleep over in hospital now.

Easily addictive, some doctors won’t prescribe it all. Fastidiousness is a must –I only take it if desperate and only in half doses. Even 3.75mg, half the usual dose of 7.5mg, usually does the trick for me.

Valerian, a herbal remedy, is worth a try too and you can buy this off the counter. 

Block it Out

My first investments were eye masks and ear plugs.

It can be irritating when you come to rely on them -there’s no sleep without them for me now. 


I have chronic cold feet and found that warming them with a hot water bottle made me feel a whole lot more comfortable.



The chap on Headspace has an awesome 10 minute session that relaxes the body, mind and guides you to sleep. I lived on this for about six months.

Sleep With Me Podcast

And then there’s the totally barmy Sleep with Me podcast. 

The presenter creates the persona ‘Dearest Scooter’ to talk you to sleep, with stories so monotonously-spoken there is no option not to fall into dreamland. It’ll certainly take your mind off whatever is trampling your thoughts.

It helps by not heaping the pressure on. If you don’t fall asleep, you can always follow Dearest Scooter’s ramblings, they're strangely mundane and peculiar at the same time.

Have you found anything that helps? 

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Kirsty (not verified)

I had a 4 hours sleep last night! Though for once I wasn't thinking about a cancer coming back and instead what I am going to cook for my mother in law visiting tonight!! I will definitely try that Sleep With Me podcast - thanks!

Debbie (not verified)

Nytol ( non herbal) can be bought OTC It's an "old style" antihistamine that makes you drowsy. For short term use but I've used it a few times a week fir years ( doctor approval). You can buy 1 a night or 2 a night (half dosage).