top of page
  • Writer's pictureChris Hoffman

Post Diagnosis Sleeping Troubles: How to Sleep Now That You Know You Have Breast Cancer

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Woman getting a good night's sleep, how to sleep with a breast cancer diagnosis

Sleeping post breast cancer diagnosis can be difficult. Read on to see how Chris, two-time cancer survivor, has coped with this problem in the past.

One of the first things that I learned after my Breast Cancer diagnosis is that while I could keep my mind on task and focused during the day, the dark of night, the rhythmic breathing of my partner brought a similar focus, but not on what I wanted to focus on. It was in those times that I really struggled to prevent my mind from ruminating (over/over thinking) of the possible bad outcomes that may come my way…and the way of my family by extension. Always the bad ones. While sleeping post breast cancer diagnosis feels impossible... In reality, after 17 years of survivorship, I realize that it was important that I also consider the other equally or even more likely scenarios.

I needed to stop this thinking because I was not able to find rest/sleep here so, I used some tricks to get to sleep and I’m sharing these with you here…


I was trained in clinical psychology and I was aware of the simple method of STOP & RESTART POSITIVELY! It is very much like the idea of using a stern voice with a child that is about to walk into traffic. For me, I never vocalized but I did use a clear mental voice. I would only let myself think about lovely things, relaxing things. If I started to mentally go back to the dark place, I would repeat the non-vocal “STOP." There is a helpful video from NHS about reframing negative thoughts, by first, "recogniz[ing]," these thoughts, and then "challenge" and "replace" them.

Tip #2 - 4-7-8 method

I also used a breathing technique that is commonly used in relaxation strategies. It is called the 4-7-8 method: 4 deep breaths in from the nose to fill the lungs; hold for a count of 7 and blow out a “hot” breath like in yoga where you put your tongue on the back of our front teeth and make a hissing sound to breath out the count of 8. Minimally I’d do that 3 times, but if it was doing the trick I would use it for more cycles. It wasn’t hard but it did require focus and it allowed me to relax and find some peace. A 2020 PubMed review found that this form of breath work can be useful for...

improving heart and lung function
reducing blood pressure
improving quality of life in chronic disorders
reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks

Tip #3 - Counting Sheep

Everyone always talks about counting sheep, and while this seems odd, I found a variation of counting helpful. I used the count backwards method starting at 1000….it requires concentration which is what I wanted. I wanted to concentrate on anything but bad outcomes. In a few situations, I got down to the 300 series which takes longer than you might imagine. Meditation and relaxation apps such as headspace recommend a similar method, saying to "visualize" the numbers as you are counting. Nowadays, apps like these have guided sleep podcasts to take the pressure off your counting and visualization skills. ;)

From reframing thoughts to counting sheep...

Sleeping after a breast cancer diagnosis can feel more like an exercise in futility than something possible. I certainly hope these three strategies I have used in my life can help you if you find yourself short on sleep but long on unwanted thinking.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page