Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 1113–1120 | Cite as

Sleep disturbance in cancer patients and caregivers who contact telephone-based help services

  • Bronwyn A. Morris
  • Frances P. Thorndike
  • Lee M. Ritterband
  • Nick Glozier
  • Jeff Dunn
  • Suzanne K. ChambersEmail author
Original Article



Insomnia is highly prevalent in people who are affected by cancer. However, options available to receive support for insomnia are limited. Telephone-based help services, such as cancer helplines, may be ideally placed to meet unmet needs regarding insomnia after cancer. The present study describes the prevalence and predictors of insomnia in patients and caregivers who call cancer helplines seeking support.


Participants (N = 500 patients, N = 234 caregivers) were recruited through an Australian state-based telephone-delivered cancer helpline. In addition to routine screening with the Distress Thermometer, participants were administered the Insomnia Severity Index.


Most participants were female, older than 50 years of age, and were three (caregivers) to four (patients) months post-diagnosis. Insomnia symptoms were reported by 59.4 % of patients and 62.9 % of caregivers, with moderate to severe levels of insomnia reported by 27 % of patients and 30 % of caregivers. Insomnia was predicted by distress level for both patients (β = .31, p < .001) and caregivers (β = .32, p < .001) and age for patients only (β = −.13, p < .01).


Insomnia symptoms are common in patients and caregivers who call cancer helplines and appear to be related to distress. Telephone-based helplines have the potential to act as the first line of support in a stepped care approach addressing insomnia.


Insomnia Sleep Distress Cancer 



Prof. Chambers is supported by the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. We gratefully acknowledge the support of Robert McDowall for his assistance with data analysis.

Conflict of interest

Dr Morris, Prof. Glozier, Prof. Dunn and Prof Chambers have no conflict of interest. Prof. Chambers has full control of all the primary data and agrees to allow the journal to review it on request. Drs. Ritterband and Thorndike have equity ownership in BeHealth Solutions, LLC, a company disseminating online interventions, including one for insomnia. The terms of Drs. Ritterband and Thorndike’s arrangement with BeHealth Solutions have been reviewed and approved by the University of Virginia in accordance with its conflict of interest policy.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bronwyn A. Morris
    • 1
    • 2
  • Frances P. Thorndike
    • 3
  • Lee M. Ritterband
    • 3
  • Nick Glozier
    • 4
  • Jeff Dunn
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    • 6
  • Suzanne K. Chambers
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
    • 8
    • 9
    Email author
  1. 1.Griffith Health InstituteGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Cancer Council QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Behavioral Health and Technology LaboratoryUniversity of Virginia Health SystemCharlottesvilleUSA
  4. 4.Central Clinical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.School of Social ScienceUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  6. 6.School of Public HealthGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  7. 7.Prostate Cancer Foundation AustraliaSydneyAustralia
  8. 8.Health and Wellness InstituteEdith Cowan UniversityPerthAustralia
  9. 9.Centre for Clinical Research University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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