Sleep Well – Examining the Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Cancer

June 4th, 2014 by Dr. Keith Nemec

Lack of SleepA bad night’s sleep. Nearly all of us have experienced it at some time or another, and typically when it’s most inconvenient. You know the sort of thing I mean. You’ve trudged through a long hard day at work, come home for a light meal and the promise of an early evening, only to find yourself tossing and turning in your bed. The clock keeps ticking away the minutes, and before you know it your well intentioned good night’s sleep has turned into a short nap. The bed clothes are in an awful state, and quite frankly, so are you. But up you get, and off you go, to push through the lack of sleep and to see to the new day’s business. But have you ever stopped to wonder what that lack of sleep may be costing you? Because, it may be costing you dearly.

Sleeplessness and Your Health

We all understand the general effects of a sleepless night. We feel sluggish and run down, tired and anxious. Most of us can also spot the effects of sleep deprivation on our general health. We are more prone to common ailments like cold and flu when we are tired and run down. But recent studies are showing that prolonged bouts of sleeplessness can have an even greater effect on our long term health, and may actually be linked to the increased risk for developing certain cancers. Chronic sleep loss has been linked to a disruption in the body’s production of melatonin, a natural hormone that is an integral part of the body’s self-repairing mechanisms. Deprived of adequate levels of melatonin, the body cannot successfully repair itself at the DNA level. Prolonged bouts of sleeplessness have also been linked to insulin resistance, which in turn has been linked to obesity, a common factor in the development of many cancers.

Sleep Loss and Men’s Health

A recent study at the University of Iceland tracked the health of 2100 adult men, all of whom were cancer free at the beginning of the trial. Of these 2100 test subjects, more than 8% identified as having moderate to severe sleep disturbances. At the end of the five year study, more than 6% of the test group showed early signs of prostate cancer. Discounting major cancer markers like family history and smoking, by far the most common factor among the men who tested positive for signs of prostate cancer was chronic sleeplessness and insomnia. While studies are ongoing, it would appear that chronic sleep disorders may be underlying causal factor in the development of prostate cancer. Moreover, the research shows that chronic sleeplessness may be a contributing factor to the increased risk for colorectal cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well.

Sleep Loss and Women’s Health

Recent studies haven’t focuses solely on men’s health, and chronic sleep disruption has also been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers in women. A recent study at University Hospitals Case Medical Center surveyed more than 400 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The results drew a direct correlation between the quality and duration of the subjects’ slumber, and the aggressiveness of the their disease. The same study also saw a direct link between chronic or recurring sleep loss and the recurrence of cancer in women whose breast cancer had gone into remission. The study concluded that women who were able to improve the quality of their sleep, as well as its duration, were less likely to develop aggressive tumors, had a better recovery rate, and decreased the risk of seeing their cancer return.

We all look forward to a good night’s sleep, so we can feel rested and ready to go in the morning. But recent research is showing that sleep may be more important to our total health than we realized. It is important that we all take steps to ensure are sleep patterns are uninterrupted, and ultimately productive. Eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise, and keep to a regular sleep schedule. Avoid those weekend sleep-ins that can so easily disrupt your sleep routine.

Remember, sleeping well is not only about feeling rested in the morning. It is also an integral part or maintaining your body’s total health.

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