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Insomnia and Multiple Myeloma: Managing Sleep Problems

Updated on April 28, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Emily Wagner, M.S.

Many MyMyelomaTeam members experience sleep problems, including insomnia. There may be different reasons for these sleeping difficulties, including worry about myeloma, pain from the condition, or treatment side effects.

If you have trouble sleeping while living with myeloma or other types of cancer, you understand the impact it can have on your quality of life. Sleep disorders affect not only your energy levels, but also your overall physical and mental well-being. Several studies have shown that between 10 percent and 30 percent of the general population worldwide experience some form of insomnia — and those numbers are higher for people with particular health conditions.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. A person with insomnia may also wake up too early and have difficulty falling back to sleep.

Short-term (acute) insomnia typically occurs as the result of a stressful or traumatic event. For members of MyMyelomaTeam, these events may include receiving a cancer diagnosis or beginning a new treatment plan. Short-term insomnia can last for days to weeks, whereas long-term (chronic) insomnia can last for one to several months.

Common Causes of Sleep Disturbances for People with Multiple Myeloma

Side effects from cancer care treatments can interfere with sleep. Many MyMyelomaTeam members have mentioned “off” sleeping patterns from steroid treatments. One member shared, “I usually wake up at 3:30 in the morning and don’t get sleepy until 10:30 to 11:00 in the AM.”

Another member mentioned that taking dexamethasone or other steroids can also contribute to insomnia: “Always take steroids in the morning or you can forget about sleeping at night!”

Hot Flashes

Hot flashes are also common for people living with cancer and cancer survivors. They can be caused by a number of triggers, including radiation therapy, surgery, and some medications. One MyMyelomaTeam member said, “I have hot flashes, and they are very annoying because I can’t sleep sometimes at night.”

Painsomnia

Painsomnia is characterized as pain that keeps you awake. The pain can be caused by your cancer or as a side effect of treatment. People with multiple myeloma often experience bone pain in the back, hips, ribs, and skull.

Neuropathy

Neuropathy (nerve pain, numbness, or tingling) can be caused by some types of myeloma treatment (specifically, chemotherapy). One MyMyelomaTeam member described how neuropathy affects their sleep: “At night, I feel a spastic electrification of nerve endings and, at times, an electrical shooting pain that wakes me up.”

Extreme Exhaustion

Interestingly, sleep problems and insomnia can be caused by fatigue from the cancer itself. Extreme exhaustion has been shown to interfere with sleep patterns and can cause you to sleep during the day and stay awake at night. This disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm and can lead to more health problems down the road.

Treating Insomnia and Other Sleep Issues

If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, your doctor may prescribe medication to help better regulate your sleep-wake cycle as part of your cancer treatment. These can include sleep aids, such as melatonin, or prescription sleep medication, such as zolpidem (sold as Ambien). Talk to your health care provider to learn what might be right for you.

A good night’s sleep is important to help your body fight cancer and heal after treatments. MyMyelomaTeam members have some recommendations:

  • “My oncologist gave me Ambien, it’s the only thing that shuts my brain off so I can sleep.”

  • “I take Unisom and melatonin sublingual tablets.”

Practicing good sleep hygiene can also help you sleep better at night. Make a nightly routine that you can follow to help yourself wind down before bed. Some tips from the Sleep Foundation on good sleep hygiene include the following:

  • Keep a consistent routine to tell your mind that it’s time for bed.
  • Create 30 minutes of relaxation time to wind down with reading, soft music, or other mindfulness techniques to reach some degree of sleepiness.
  • Keep your room at a cool temperature if possible, which can also help with hot flashes at night.
  • Limit light and noise by using heavy curtains and earplugs.

Naps can also be a useful way to get sleep when you need it. One member said, “I woke up very early so I’m catching up on the local news. I will do some light housework, then rest. Then I’ll walk my dog, fix a little lunch, then nap. With neuropathy, extreme fatigue, and insomnia, I get tired easily and rest often.”

If you are experiencing sleep problems or insomnia with your multiple myeloma, you are not alone. Talk with your oncologist about ways to manage these problems. They may suggest physical activity and meditation. MyMyelomaTeam members may also have helpful suggestions, but it’s always best to check with your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 15,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with myeloma.

Have you experienced insomnia with your multiple myeloma? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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