10 ways to break up with fatigue - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

10 ways to break up with fatigue

​Feeling tired, and having issues sleeping, is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives – in fact, it’s the most common complaint reported to GPs!

Some sleeplessness then, is entirely normal, but if your exhaustion seems endless and it’s stopping you doing things you normally would, chances are you may be experiencing abnormal fatigue.

We’ve put together some tips to help you beat fatigue once and for all.

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1.Keep moving

Not only can physical activity reduce your risk of breast cancer returning, it also plays a key role in re-energising you throughout treatment and beyond as well as improving bone density, brain power and mental health. Exercise enhances lymph flow, too, helping to protect against lymphoedema. You'll need to recondition your body so a gentle introduction is best, but you want to avoid stopping exercise altogether if you can help it because our bodies thrive on movement.

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2.Rest… before you need to

It’s a good idea to schedule rest into your day before you feel exhausted; if you need a nap – take it (but keep it to 20-30 minutes max if you can).

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3.Figure out The Why

Sleeplessness can be triggered by a range of different circumstances: depression, anxiety and stress, cancer itself and/or the treatments, poor sleep hygiene, age (menopause), other diseases and nutritional deficits. Discuss with your GP or oncologist to pinpoint what’s likely to be affecting your sleep and whether they’d advise seeking specialist help.

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4.Chill out

More of an issue during the summer months, overheating can stop you getting some well-deserved rest. Tips for cooling down include taking a cool shower before bed; sleeping with the window open, or a fan; and popping a self-cooling pet bed under your sheets.

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5.Small steps

It’s tempting to launch into exercise when you’re feeling good but it’s best to take a more conservative approach, starting light and very gradually increasing the intensity of your movements. This will help you avoid the boom-bust cycle – where you take on too much too quickly, exhausting yourself and making an exercise routine impossible. When you’re starting out, doing less exercise more frequently is a smart approach.

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6.Accept help for things that tire you

When you’re dealing with post-cancer fatigue, even small things can take their toll. There’s no shame in accepting help – whether it’s for cooking meals or dropping the kids off at school – and if you let everyone pitch in, they’ll feel like they’re doing something significant to help you, so it works out well for all!

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7.Expect a challenge

Getting back into exercise can initially increase your fatigue. You’ll likely feel more tired the day or two after you’ve exercised so schedule some rest accordingly. If you find this boosted fatigue lasts longer than two days, it’s a sign you need to back off the intensity and tackle something a little lighter to allow your body to adapt.

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8.Commit to good sleep hygiene

Avoid or limit caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bed time – all can disrupt your sleep quality as your liver works to break them down. It’s also best to avoid fatty/fried and spicy meals, citrus fruits and anything high in sugar (these can cause heartburn). Make sure you get outside during the day for a dose of natural light, and turn off or remove blue light-emitting devices like tablets, smart phones and laptops an hour before bedtime.

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9.Make smart food choices

Fatigue can be brought on if you’re not getting enough of essential nutrients. You might like to ask your GP for a blood test to see if you’re lacking in any areas. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s particularly important to look at your B12, iron and calcium levels. Some people also find magnesium or coenzymeQ10 (CoQ10) supplements and/or temporarily increasing your salt intake to be beneficial too (although not for people with high blood pressure). If you’re currently having chemo, it’s important to consult with your GP or oncologist before starting on any supplements, however, as they can hinder cancer treatment or may not be suitable for your unique medical history.

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10.Have fun with it

There’s no use resolving to run a marathon or smash a burpee challenge if you hate running or the thought of burpees makes you want to run away. When you’re thinking about ways of improving your sleep – food choices, ways to exercise etc. – you need to choose ideas that excite you. Think outside the box: dancing in the dark, hula hooping and spud squats (squats while you peel the potatoes)… if you’re looking forward to moving, you’ll stick to it.

For more tips on sorting out sleep, watch our Fatigue After Breast Cancer webinar with patient Trudi Williams, chronic fatigue specialist Dr Ros Vallings and exercise physiologist Megan McEwen.