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Sleep problems and sex hormone symptoms

Treatments and therapies are available to help with sleeplessness - there are also ways you can help yourself to cope.

Hormonal treatments for breast cancer can lower the levels of sex hormones in the body. These hormones are oestrogen and progesterone in women.

Low levels of sex hormones can cause hot flushes or anxiety, making sleep difficult. Coping with other symptoms can feel harder if you are not sleeping well.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can control symptoms like these. But unfortunately you can’t take HRT if you are having breast cancer treatments that aim to stop the body producing sex hormones or block the action of the hormones.

Most adults sleep for 8 hours in a day but this varies from person to person.

Sleeplessness (insomnia)

An occasional night without sleep will make you tired the following day, but it won't affect your health. It can make concentrating and decision making more difficult. Coping with other symptoms may feel harder if you are not sleeping well. 

Understanding why sleeping is difficult will help to find possible solutions. 

Sleeplessness can be:

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • difficulty staying asleep
  • waking up often or too early in the morning
  • waking up unrested (poor quality sleep)

Tips to help with sleep:

  • go to bed and get up the same time each day and reduce naps
  • do some light exercise each day to tire yourself
  • make sure the room is not too hot or too cold
  • relax before bedtime, by taking a bath or listening to music
  • avoid alcohol for 6 hours before going to bed
  • don't go to bed hungry

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have tried these tips and they haven’t helped

Treatment for sleeplessness (insomnia)

Your doctor might suggest a short course of tablets to help you sleep. There are many types of medication available. 

Some people are not keen on taking sleeping tablets but a short course may help you to get back into a healthy sleeping pattern. 

Medication to help with sleep include:

  • benzodiazepines (lorazepam, temazepam)
  • non benzodiazepine hypnotics (zopiclone, zaleplon)
  • melatonin (if you are over 55) 

Complementary therapies for sleeplessness

Counselling can help if your thoughts and emotions are affecting your sleep. There are different types of counselling including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type of counselling helps you change how you respond to situations or emotions. 

Other complementary therapies 

Many people want to try alternative therapies including accupunture and aromatherapy. There is limited evidence about how well they work. 

Last reviewed: 
29 Jun 2015
  • Cancer Treatments and Their Side Effects Are Associated With Aggravation of Insomnia: Results of a Longitudinal Study
    J Savard and others
    Cancer, May 2015.1703-1711

  • British Association for Psychopharmacology consensus statement on evidence-based treatment of insomnia, parasomnias and circadian rhythm disorders
    S Wilson and others
    Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2010. Vol 24, No11, 1577-1600

  • Chronic Insomnia
    C Morin
    The Lancet, 2010.  Vol 379, 1129-1141

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Chronic Insomnia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
    J Trauer and others
    Annals of Internal Medicine, 2015. Vol 163, No 3, 191-204

  • Insomnia- Clinical Knowledge Summary
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2015

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