Insomnia in the context of cancer: a review of a neglected problem

J Clin Oncol. 2001 Feb 1;19(3):895-908. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2001.19.3.895.


This article reviews the evidence on the diagnosis, epidemiology, etiology, and treatment of insomnia in the context of cancer and proposes several areas for future research. Clinical and diagnostic features of insomnia are described and prevalence estimates of insomnia complaints in cancer patients are summarized. Then, potential etiologic factors (ie, predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors) and consequences of insomnia (ie, psychologic, behavioral, and health impact) in the context of cancer are discussed. Finally, pharmacologic and psychologic treatments previously shown effective to treat insomnia in healthy individuals are discussed as valuable treatment options for cancer patients as well. Because long-term use of hypnotic medications is associated with some risks (eg, dependence), it is argued that psychologic interventions (eg, stimulus control, sleep restriction, cognitive therapy) are the treatment of choice for sleep disturbances in the context of cancer, especially when it has reached a chronic course. However, the efficacy of these treatments has yet to be verified specifically in cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / etiology*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy