How sleeping well decreases your cancer risk



Are you lacking sleep? Do you use indoor lighting and devices that produce light at night? If so, you may potentially be at a higher risk of getting cancer, according to researchers who suggest making changes in your sleep patterns and exposure to light.
Between stress, work, and school, more than 70 percent of Americans are not meeting the average recommended 8 hours of sleep they need, and it’s safe to say, America is suffering from a serious sleep crisis. Both melatonin and cortisol hormones that are produced at night are believed to play an important role in fighting off cancer according to some doctors, sleep psychologists, and researchers.
Dr. Richard G. Stevens, Cancer Epidemiologist and professor at the University Of Connecticut Health Center has been researching for many years and has tried to figure out why people get cancer, after proposing that cancer may be caused by an overload in iron, Dr. Stevens decided to do research in breast cancer. Melatonin works as a powerful antioxidant, which is thought to fight off cancer cells. Melatonin may also reduce the production of oestrogen in the body, so with light interrupting the release of melatonin, oestrogen levels rise, and too much oestrogen heightens the growth of breast cancer.
A poor night’s sleep not only makes getting through the day difficult, it also may increase your risk of disease, especially if you suffer from chronic lack of sleep. Inadequate sleep has been associated with obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer.
Studies in recent years have identified a relationship between lack of sleep and some of the top cancers in the United States: breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. In addition, research suggests that people who have sleep apnoea have an increased risk of developing any type of cancer.

Lack of sleep increases risk of cancer

There is some evidence of a link between insufficient sleep and the risk of cancer. In particular, people with circadian rhythm disorders—in which the body's biological clock is disrupted because of shift work, for example—may be at increased risk. A study in the International Journal of Cancer found a relationship between women's irregular work schedules and the rate of breast cancer. Researchers compared 1200 women who had developed breast cancer between 2005 and 2008, with 1300 women who did not have a cancer diagnosis. They found that the rate of breast cancer was 30 percent higher for the women who had worked shifts. Women who had at least four years of night shift work, as well as those with fewer than three night shifts per week (keeping them from ever fully adjusting to one schedule) were at highest risk. Shift work has also been shown to increase the incidence of certain cancers—for example prostate cancer—in men.
Researchers suspect that a disruption in the circadian rhythm could pose a risk for developing cancer, since the body's internal clock affects so many biological functions. One theory is that the suppression of melatonin at night (which comes from exposure to bright light) could be partly responsible. Indeed, scientists have seen this link in animal studies; for example, when they manipulate the sleep/wake cycles of rodents for an extended time, cancers grow faster.


Hormones, sleep and cancer

One is cortisol, which helps to regulate immune system activity -- including the release of certain "natural killer" cells that help the body battle cancer. Cortisol levels typically peak at dawn, after hours of sleep, and decline throughout the day.
The other hormone affected by sleep is melatonin. Produced by the brain during sleep, melatonin may have antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to cells that can lead to cancer. In addition, melatonin lowers oestrogen production from the ovaries. Thus, a lack of sleep leads to too little melatonin. This series of events may expose women to high levels of oestrogen and may increase the risk of breast cancer. Spiegel says that women shift workers who are up all night produce less melatonin.
Here are summaries of recent research linking lack of sleep to cancer:
Prostate cancer: Affecting more men than any other cancer, an estimated 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer are expected in 2014. Last year, a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention found that men who suffer from insomnia may be at increased risk of prostate cancer.
Colorectal cancer: It’s estimated that 136,830 men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014, making it the second most common cancer affecting both sexes after lung cancer. Inadequate sleep may lead to the development on colorectal cancer, according to a 2010 study published in Cancer.
Breast cancer: An estimated 232,670 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. A 2012 study suggests that women may develop more aggressive breast cancer if they chronically lack sleep.

How to sleep well
Make sure your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable, then give these tips a try:
  • Get up and go to bed the same time every day
  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before bed
  • Don’t exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime
  • Have a light snack before bed
  • If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy.

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