Living with Breast Cancer: 10 Ways to Fill Up A Sleepless Night

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • You glance at the clock: 2:18 a.m. You turned in after the 11 p.m. news, but you’re still awake. You vowed to simply relax – close your eyes – let your worries go – fall asleep.

    Didn’t work, did it?

    We’ve all had nights like this. Cancer is the original Big Gorilla in the Corner. Awfully hard to ignore, even in the light of day.

    But at night? Every awful fear you have bubbles to the top of your brain, a cauldron of competing worries.

    What’s chemo going to be like? When will my hair fall out? Will I be too sick to work? How will we pay the bills?

    Should I have a lumpectomy, or mastectomy? I don’t want a mastectomy. I don’t want the caner to come back. Why won’t the doctor tell me what to do?

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    And then there’s the biggest gorilla of all:

    Am I going to die?

    During the day, surrounded by family and friends, the normal routine of work, meals, errands, it’s easier to shove cancer into a closet and kick the door shut. But in the dark of night, you imagine the worst outcome of every situation, from your son’s struggle with second-grade reading (“He’s going to be illiterate”), to cancer (“Who’s going to take care of the kids when I’m dead?”)


    Truly, life isn’t worse at night than it is during the day. It’s just your outlook that changes. Lying in bed, unable to sleep, you have too much time on your hands. The solution?

    Get up and do something.

    Hey, nothing says you have to crawl into bed at 10 p.m. and stay there. If you find yourself awake at midnight, or 2 a.m., or 4 a.m. – for whatever reason – get up. Leave the bedroom, flick the light switch, move around. Shedding light on the situation will bring back at least some of your daytime confidence.

    And while you’re up, you might as well DO something. Remember your grandma telling you “Idle hands are the devil’s work”? So is an idle mind. Here are 10 suggestions for shaking those 3 a.m. “devils”:

    1) Do laundry. While it may seem like just one more chore you don’t have time for during the day, there’s a certain satisfaction in pulling warm, clean clothes out of the dryer, and folding them just-so.

    Imagine each article of clothing on its owner – your husband in his favorite jeans, your daughter’s training bra, your son in his too-big but majorly cool Cavs jersey. Think of your family sleeping peacefully. Life is good.

    2) Take a shower. There’s nothing like a hot shower to relax your muscles – including that overactive “muscle” in your head!

    While you’re at it, have that good cry you’ve been holding in all day. Between the noise of running water and the midnight hour, no one will hear you; let it all out. You’ll feel exhausted, and so much better afterwards – maybe even ready for bed.
    3) Organize things. There’s nothing that’ll make you forget your worries like occupying your mind with inconsequential but exacting tasks.

    Put that pile of photos in the album, all in order of date. Rearrange your CDs so the oldies and classical and folk and jazz all have their own spots. Likewise your DVDs. And then there are those iPod playlists; surely you need to make some headway on them!

  • 4) Speaking of DVDs – sit down and watch one. Light carbs are known to encourage sleep, so  microwave some popcorn, and lose yourself in The Princess Bride, Dr. Zhivago, Sleepless in Seattle… Hint – Stepmom probably isn’t the best choice here…

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    5) Listen to talk radio. There’s probably nothing so soporific, at 3:30 a.m., as a local talk radio show. “Hi, this is Margaret from Somerville. I want to comment on how Mayor Menino’s closing the playground on Commercial Street…” Snorrrrrrre….

    6) Meditate. Don’t know how? Next time you’re at the library, check out an introductory CD or DVD, and learn. Deepak Chopra’s “The Soul of Healing Mediations” is a great place to start.

    There’s a Buddhist concept I often rely on, when my mind gets terminally tangled in angst. Simplified to its essence, it’s this: Your life is a raging river. It’s OK to climb out of the rapids and sit on the bank for awhile.

    7) Deal with those emails you’ve let sink to the bottom of your inbox. You know, the one from your college roommate, asking how you’re doing. Your cousin wondering if you have a list of everyone’s birthdays. All the stuff you didn’t want to throw away, but also didn’t feel like you had time to deal with. Now’s your chance: it’s 1 a.m., you have time!

    8) Write down everything that’s bugging you about cancer, and create a Sharepost here. This site is the perfect place to “upload” all your problems. We’re welcoming; we know what you’re going through, because we’ve been there.

    And best of all – we’re anonymous. There’s no baggage here – no responsibilities, no relationship-tending, no “shoulds.” Let it all out, girl – you’ll get nothing but unconditional love in return.

    9) Read a thoroughly trashy novel. Personally, I read mystery thrillers – usually on the treadmill at the gym, to take my mind off my aching joints. But if the torn bodice school of literature and Danielle Steel are more your style, go for it – no one’s watching, it’s 4 a.m.!

    10) Last, but certainly not least – do anything you like to do when no one’s around to bug you and/or make fun of you. Hey, everyone’s asleep – the house is yours. Be selfish – you deserve it.

    Whether it’s watching QVC, or singing along (quietly!) to Mamma Mia, or painting a picture (so what if you’re completely talent-less?), now’s the time. The coast is clear – enjoy!

    I hope some of these suggestions resonate with you. And remember, you can always cruise this site; check out our Inspirations, to start. Sweet dreams!

Published On: November 22, 2009