Sleep disturbances in patients with cancer preceded radiotherapy treatment and are associated with previous treatment, disease progression, and psychological symptoms, according to a recent study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing.1

Sleep problems can be significant among patients with cancer. These problems can interfere with both recovery and daily functioning. Understanding sleep disturbances could improve understanding of other correlates such as cancer progression, previous treatments including chemotherapy, and psychological conditions.

This descriptive, cross-sectional study evaluated patient-reported sleep problems, cancer severity, history of cancer treatment, and psychosomatic symptoms in 105 people with cancer. The assessment occurred at the first radiotherapy appointment, prior to treatment. A self-rated version of the Oviedo Sleep Questionnaire determined the primary end point of the sleep problem score. Secondary end points were the effects of pain on sleep, anxiety, and asthenia.

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Patients reported both insomnia and hypersomnia, excessive tiredness due to inadequate sleep and excessive sleep. In patients with more severe disease, levels of insomnia were significantly higher (P<.05). Higher insomnia levels resulted in higher levels of hypnotic drug intake.

“Insomnia-related problems were significantly higher in patients with a more severe disease, which led to higher levels of hypnotic drug intake,” stated Escarlata López, MD, PhD, head of Radiation Oncology, Radiotherapy and Oncology Department, the University of Granada, ONCOSUR, Granada, Spain, and lead author of the study.

Hypersomnia was correlated with previous chemotherapy treatment (P<.05). Both insomnia and hypersomnia correlated with higher levels of anxiety.

“In conclusion, sleep problems appear to be present in the majority of patients with cancer, particularly in those awaiting treatment. Knowledge about the nature of these problems would help clinicians to plan adequate palliative treatments, and therefore improve the quality of life and promote the well-being of patients with cancer,” concluded the authors.


1. López E, de la Torre-Luque A, Lazo A, et al. Assessment of sleep disturbances in patients with cancer: cross-sectional study in a radiotherapy department. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2016;20:71-76.