Living with cancer blog

Tired of feeling tired? Strategies for cancer-related fatigue

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. March 8, 2016

Do you feel some days that you're so fatigued nothing seems to help? One of the primary concerns we hear about during and after cancer treatment is that you're exhausted. This fatigue may feel different than anything you've ever experienced.

Cancer-related fatigue is a persistent feeling of physical, emotional and mental tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer and/or its treatment. It doesn't go away with rest and can be long lasting — at times for months and years after treatment's done.

Most people experience fatigue during treatment. Symptoms may be due to the cancer itself and/or your reaction to treatment. Think about the energy it takes to heal from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. On top of that, your daily routine may be completely interrupted by appointments and tests. Plus, there's the stress and anxiety about your diagnosis.

Try these strategies to decrease your fatigue.

First, nutrition and hydration provides the fuel to help you heal, recover and maintain energy:

  • Sip on water, tea or other liquids throughout the day.
  • Focus on foods that are good sources of protein, healthy carbohydrates and calories.
  • Experiment with frequent smaller meals and snacks.
  • Keep foods on hand that are quick and easy, with little preparation (cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, nuts, etc.).
  • Eat your main meal when you feel well-rested.

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce cancer related fatigue:

  • Plan exercise for the time of the day when your energy is highest.
  • Begin slowly with short bursts of exercise and work up from there (start with 10 minutes).
  • Partner with someone who has similar goals.
  • Make exercise a daily habit.

Sleep is like a reset button for your body and is important to help you heal and recover each day:

  • Be consistent with bedtime and wakeup times.
  • Limit naps to 20 minutes.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet and comfortable.
  • Avoid using cellphones and computers for an hour before bed.
  • Practice deep paced breathing to fall asleep.

Stress may play a part in your level of fatigue:

  • Try guided imagery and meditation exercises.
  • Experiment with the gentle movements of yoga and tai chi.
  • Practice mindfulness by focusing on what brings you joy each day.

Keep in mind that nutrition, exercise, sleep and managing stress work together to decrease fatigue. Consider setting new goals in each area.

I'd love to hear what's worked well for you.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Join the discussion at #livingwithcancer.

March 08, 2016