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Working Naps Into Post-Cancer Healing


A quality nap can make all the difference.

A nap can either be beneficial or make you feel more fatigued, depending on the type of nap you take. I most certainly can reflect on times I have found napping to be of great benefit, but over the years and with my training and experience in the medical field, I have learned some tips for healthy effective napping.

I define a nap as taking a brief time of rest to refresh or revive the brain and body. A quality nap can help to calm and support effective breathing, help one to regain mental focus while providing an energy boost to make it through the rest of the day and help regulate mood to avoid irritability or other symptoms of mental or physical fatigue.

I found when recovering from cancer-related procedures that my sleep cycle was thrown off during the healing process. I needed to adjust to getting a full night's rest to support my ability to return to work and meet other responsibilities. I focused on using tips I learned over the years when working with individuals who struggle with insomnia or fatigue.

Maybe one or all of the below tips might help you or your caregivers maximize your ability to benefit from a good nap, and ideally return to a normal sleep cycle as you heal. It is true that there are medications which can also help with getting sleep, but these are generally meant to be taken for short periods of time. Not to mention, some sleep medications can become addictive, so it is important to have a conversation with your health care provider before taking them.

In general, a nap offers optimal benefits when kept to 20 to 30 minutes. If taking a nap longer or without setting a timer, you risk sleeping longer than intended and you can end up waking up feeling worse off than before your nap. This has to do with going into deep sleep, which is what we ideally want the body to experience when getting a full night's rest. However, this is not the goal of a nap.

If you are restless and can't find yourself falling asleep, consider just closing your eyes, attempt to avoid thinking about anything stressful, and bring your focus on your breath.

Relaxing your breathing alone can help refresh the body and reduce feelings of pain. Maybe you will find yourself developing a soothing playlist. The music combined with closing your eyes and relaxing your breath can all help calm your body and mind during times you may just need a gentle recharge without being able to fall asleep. This is similar to meditation and can be a way to boost mental alertness, even at work, as you could practice this while on your lunch break. Sometimes we need to recharge our body and mind just as we charge our phone or other equipment. It is all about energy and how we use it.

Find a temperature and environment which might be more conducive to getting an uninterrupted quality nap. Typically, you want to avoid bright lights, rooms with bright colors or busy designs, noises which might suddenly startle you. If you’re in a hospital, avoiding sudden noise might be a difficult task and could for some be contributing to a lack of solid quality sleep.

If possible and as you heal from cancer and its treatments, it is generally suggested you limit your napping to only when needed. This will help you adjust back to night time sleep. Learn to tune into your body and take the nap when you find it would be most effective. For most individuals, this is likely in the afternoon after being awake for a few hours.

Here’s a little tip for individuals who are restless and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something you don't want to forget: Keep a log next to your bed. Write down all the stuff you’re worried about forgetting, go back to sleep and review the log the next day.

I hope you find something of benefit. Feeling tired and wanting to enjoy life can be a struggle, but maybe you can find a little relief in giving yourself permission to take a nap. Also note that naps seem to be in style and are growing in popularity in corporate settings due to the awareness of the benefits. If you feel you are still struggling to manage fatigue or are unable to get a full night's rest after being well into your healing process, mention it to a medical professional. Your health providers may need to rule out other medical conditions or can examine the impact of medications that might be contributing to feelings of fatigue or restlessness. For some, many things are going on post-cancer and changes can occur due to a fluctuation in hormones or other related conditions. Medical professionals will also be able to determine if you may benefit from a more personal evaluation to see if diet or other factors might be playing a role in fatigue, restlessness or general insomnia.

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