Sleeping Your Way Out of Cancer

We all want more sleep, yet most of us are walking around deprived of this essential element our bodies need. When we haven’t gotten enough sleep, our immune system is lower and our brain function reduced. We don’t have energy for the exercise which reduces our risk. Shall I continue? I believe that there’s a high probability the day that first rogue cell entered my body, I was probably sleep deprived. If I had not been, maybe cancer would have never happened.

Sadly, sleep deprivation has become a badge of honor in our society. We all know a person who resolves, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” or brags, “I’m more productive because I only get five hours a sleep each night.” What these people don’t realize is a lack of sleep could bring death sooner rather than later and their lack of sufficient sleep actually makes them less productive. I don’t know about you, but I want to live longer and work smarter, not harder.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours each night. I’m no expert, but I think adding an hour or two if you’re affected by cancer or another illness is a prudent idea. The National Sleep Foundation also states your genes begin to change when you get anything less than six hours a night. Their researchers observed up to 700 different changes that can occur after a week of sleep deprivation.

My truth is, I am preaching about sleep after realizing my own problem two months ago which developed during treatment. Like many of us, I fell into the category of being perpetually exhausted. I would spend my days and nights laying in bed with the TV blaring. Once I was healthy again, falling asleep with the TV continued to be my security blanket and hindering the quality sleep my body craved.

On a long flight home after the holidays, I stumbled along a podcast where the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington was interviewed about her book, The Sleep Revolution. She explained how the majority of us are sleep deprived and as a result, not living up to our full potential. Her recommendation was to create a bedtime routine as we do for our children, who wake up with superhuman energy. Yes, some of this has to do with youth, but some of it has to do with the quality and quantity of sleep they get each night.

Taking Ariana’s advice, I began putting myself to bed. I turn on my salt lamp. I take a bath or shower. I dress myself in comfortable pajamas and not the holey, old t-shirt I used to sleep in. I take my pills. I rub some lavender oil behind my ears. I write a list of everything I’m grateful for. I read a book for enjoyment until I start to nod off. I turn the lamp off and fall asleep until the birds are chirping. There’s no cell phone in the room, no TV and no iPad. The verdict – I am sleeping nine hours a night and waking up more refreshed than ever. It’s been two months and I haven’t napped during the day once, which used to be a regular occurrence.

While undergoing treatment, most patients complain about either not having the energy to get out of bed or not being able to sleep at all. I get it and I say, during treatment, you need to do what works for you and addresses the immediate need. If you’re too tired, drag yourself out for 20 minutes of exercise and then back to bed if you’re still exhausted – if you can. If you can’t sleep, try putting yourself to bed like mom did when you were a kid. And when all else fails, talk to your doctor. Let them know how you’re sleeping and any challenges you’re having around the subject. I can guarantee you’re not the only patient who’s ever encountered this problem, so chances are, you’re doctor has a solution for improving the situation. And like everything, be persistent. Especially if you have a history of cancer. One of the best healing mechanisms of the body is triggered by sleep and don’t you want all those mechanisms working at their full capacity?

I can see some of your faces. You might be a parent, someone with a demanding job and/or that person who has never been a good sleeper. I’m here to politely acknowledge your challenge, but then Arianna Huffington, the National Sleep Foundation and I are here to tell you, it’s imperative you prioritize sleep. Put your mask on first before assisting others. Prioritize it above everything else and you’ll be so much better at everything else. And most important, you’ll be healthier and increase your odds of overcoming and avoiding disease.

Check out the National Sleep Foundation’s site, sleep.org for some interesting articles, statistics and recommendations on getting better sleep.

Read my other Cure articles here.

Advertisements

100th Post

This is an exciting and special day not only because it marks one year since my liver resection surgery, but also because this post number 100 on my blog! Double yippee!

What started out as a way to keep in touch when my husband and I moved to China has turned into a resource for cancer survivors and illness sufferers. Oh and in-between, I chronicled six months of living in France. What a ride!

To commemorate the moment, I wanted to share a few of my favorite and most popular posts. It was really fun to look back. I love how this blog has served as a history of my life.

Thank you for reading.  Here’s to the next 100!

Most popular posts:
Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy and Cancer
For me, losing my hair wasn’t hard — it was the waiting for it to grow back that has been the most challenging.  And for the hair update, click here.

img_1819

2014, 2015 & 2016

Living Universal Truths on My Cancerversy
September 1st is my cancerversy and the universe conspired for some incredible things to happen.

Testing My Confidence
My terrifying debut to the french language.

Belgium: More Than Beer and Chocolate
Christmas in Brussels, Bruges and Ghent.

My Night in a Brothel
Spending the night in a 24-hour Asian spa – sketchy or awesome? Both.

 

Favorite posts:

img_1337-2

At the End of the World on Cancer Survivor’s Day

The Ordinary World
My journey through cancer and to the Camino de Santiago.

Lessons Learned in Advocating
Your life depends on not letting your guard down for a moment. Here are some of the important advocating lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Why I’m Kicking Italy to the Curb
Where my obsession with the Camino de Santiago all began.  To read all my Camino posts, click here.

DSCN0381

Holly visits China

Hol(l)y Crap
When one of my best friends visited me in China.

The Adventures of Henri & Moi
Driving a manual car in a foreign country is terrifying.

 

One Year of Hair After Cancer

87WSyMSm

As featured on curetoday.com

August marked one year since I shaved my head just two weeks after my first round of chemotherapy. I knew the hair loss was coming and decided ahead of time to shave at the first signs of clumps on my pillow. As I wrote in Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy, “Losing my hair wasn’t hard – waiting for it to grow back has been the most challenging.” I still stand by this statement.

When treatment ended, I became obsessed with taking a daily photo so I could see the progress. A watched pot never boils; this saying applies to hair growth, too. It seemed the day I stopped taking regular photos, it started growing like a weed.

Another daily task was scouring Pinterest for secret solutions. I put castor and peppermint oils in my shampoo. I massaged my head to wake up the hair growth follicles. I took biotin. The result: a freakish amount of blond hair on my earlobes that was never there before. Once a friend commented on my unusual amount of ear hair, I stopped and deleted this Pinterest board.

I’m happy to be past the point where unusually short hair prompts a conversation. I loved when other survivors approached me with their words of wisdom and encouragement, but there were also those who opened their mouths without thinking. For instance, there was the TSA official who asked, “What did you cut your hair for?”

With a sarcastic smile, I replied, “It wasn’t voluntary.”

I’m not sure he ever got it, but I questioned his intelligence for commenting on a woman’s hair in the first place.

I shared this story with a fellow survivor who advised me to respond to this question by saying, “I survived cancer!” This prompts celebration and not pity or surprise or embarrassment for asking. Great advice.

After about two months of growth, I looked in the mirror and saw a mullet staring back at me. Initially, I planned to tough it out as I grew it out. My philosophy was, why would I cut off perfectly good hair? However, the mullet lead to a change in strategy. If my hair was going to be short, it might as well be cute and short. Now I go for haircuts every month and only during the last week do I look like Joe Dirt.

For a while, I threatened my husband to dye it purple or pink or that wonderful grey that is so in style. I was in the, “I just survived cancer and I’ll do as I darn well please,” phase. But the reality is, I’m too chicken, which I find funny considering a year ago I was walking around with a bald head and couldn’t care less. Oh, how cancer changes perspectives constantly.

Whenever I’m frustrated with the current status of my hair, I stop myself and say a prayer of gratitude that I have any hair at all, because not so long ago I didn’t. I also think about those in the place where I was a year ago. Like everything in life and in cancer, it is a journey. And as the saying goes, it’s the journey and not the destination.

However, my next destination might be extensions. Stay tuned.

Read this on curetoday.com: One Year of Hair After Cancer

Read all my articles with Cure.

And here’s a photo summary of my hair re-growth: