Sleeplessness a nightmare for many cancer patients

Cancer Council has urged Queensland cancer patients and caregivers suffering from insomnia to seek help, with new research showing 60 per cent of callers to 13 11 20 reported insomnia symptoms.

Of those surveyed*, 28 per cent of cancer patients and 32 per cent of caregivers who called Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 indicated they were suffering from moderate to severe insomnia.

Previous research shows insomnia rates are up to three times higher in cancer patients than the general population, and up to half of all caregivers also experience the condition.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the research showed a link between distress and insomnia, which had a significant impact on quality of life.

“Insomnia symptoms range from difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often during the night, and waking up early without going back to sleep, adversely impacting day-time activity,” Ms Clift said.

“Cancer-related insomnia commonly occurs after initial surgery and continues for both patients and carers long after clinical treatment has been completed.

“Sleep disturbance can also cause depression, anxiety and distress, with long-term impacts on quality of life and a person’s ‘normal’ daily functioning.”

Rates of insomnia range from 19 to 63 per cent in cancer patients, and 40 to 50 per cent in cancer carers.

The Griffith University and Cancer Council Queensland study was the first of its kind to monitor prevalence of insomnia in cancer patients and carers calling a helpline.

“We’re urging all Queenslanders affected by cancer who suffer from sleep disturbance or clinical insomnia to call 13 11 20 for support,” Ms Clift said.

“13 11 20 is staffed by health professionals waiting to take your call with free advice, resources, a listening ear and the support you need to improve everyday life.

“Whether your sleep has been affected by hospitalisation, physical discomfort or pain, treatment side effects or stress – it’s important to reach out for help.

“Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 provides a professional level of support for those affected by cancer-related insomnia – including referral to specialised support services.”

Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 is a toll-free landline call from anywhere in Queensland and offers information, resources and connection to support programs and advocacy services for those affected by cancer.

In 2014, more than 18,400 calls were made to Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 in Queensland.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 or

For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift, Executive Manager, Media and Spokesperson, Cancer Council Queensland
Ph: (07) 3634 5372 or 0409 001 171

*Morris et al. Sleep disturbance in cancer patients and caregivers who contact telephone-based help services, Support Care Cancer, October 2014.