Science: Whats The Connection Between Sleep And Cancer
More and more research is being done on the link between sleep and cancer. Many lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol and lack of exercise have been known to increase the risk of certain types of cancer, but some preliminary research has shown that lack of sleep may play a role, too.
We also know that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with obesity, diabetes, and many other potentially serious health conditions that are themselves risk factors for cancer.
Chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on the body and brain. Missing out on the recommended 7-8 hours a night can lead to trouble with memory, thought processing, poor judgment, weight irregularities, insulin resistance, lowered immunity, and an increased risk for mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
Typically, the body cycles through light, deep, and REM sleep . Each stage is important. Deep sleep is important for muscle and tissue repair, and the REM cycle is when the mind processes memories, dreams, and emotions. Missing out on these stages can lead to physical, emotional, and cognitive effects because the body has not had sufficient time to repair.
Up to 50% of medications prescribed to cancer patients are for hypnotics to help them get more rest.
Unfortunately, prolonged use of these sedatives may also contribute to the disease itself. A recent meta-analysis of several observational studies found that the use of hypnotics may increase the risk of cancer over time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep And Cancer Risk
Does Sleeping With a Light on Increase Cancer Risk?
Though not conclusive, some research indicates that exposure to artificial light at night may have an effect on cancer risk.
Darkness is an important contributor to circadian rhythm it induces the body to produce melatonin, a hormone that facilitates sleep. Beyond its sleep-promoting benefits, melatonin has been found in animal studies to fight tumor growth and help repair DNA damage in cells. Theoretically, then, sleeping with the lights on may interfere with normal circadian signals and create conditions more permissive of cancer development .
In an observational study of people and their artificial light exposure at night, sleeping in a highly illuminated bedroom was associated with an elevated risk of prostate cancer but a . Given these inconsistent findings, considerably more research is needed about light during sleep to determine whether or not it is a significant risk factor for cancer.
Can You Get Cancer by Sleeping Next to Your Phone?
There is no evidence that sleeping next to your phone increases your risk of cancer. The type of energy from cell phones, called non-ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage instead, its only established biological effect is heating. Studies of cell phone users have not found any consistent pattern of elevated risk of brain tumors or any other kind of cancer.
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Sleep: A Missing Link To Cancer Prevention
The increased toxicity of the modern fireground makes cancer one of the greatest threats to firefighter health today. Although this claim has been supported by numerous studies, many of them have conflicting findings because there is no standard method to harvest data. For example, a large-scale study of 30,000 firefighters from 1960-2009 conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported a nine percent increase in cancer deaths for firefighters.1 Yet, another interpretation of the same study found just a small to moderate increase for certain cancers stemming primarily from the digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems.2 Notably, this study found a two-fold increase in malignant mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.
Effects of the ImmuneSystem
What if there was a simple way to strengthen your immune systemso that your bodys natural killer cells could attack malignant tumor cells? There is! Humans naturally have an inbuilt system to boost thesecancer-fighting cells, but to work, the system requires obtaining sufficient sleepsevento nine hours a night. Preventing cancer by limiting exposure to toxins but failingto get proper sleep is akin to attempting to loseweight by exercise but failing to eat healthy.
Connection to Cancer
Sleep Education and Stages
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy May Reduce Anxiety And Help You Relax
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps reduce anxiety about getting enough sleep. You learn to change negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep into positive thoughts and images, in order to fall asleep more easily. CBT helps replace the anxiety of I need to sleep with the idea of just relax. You learn how to change sleep habits that keep you from sleeping well. If in-person CBT sessions with a health professional are not available, video CBT sessions have been shown to be helpful. CBT may include the following:
- Stimulus control.
- Relaxation therapy.
- Stimulus control
When you have sleep problems for a long time, just getting ready for bed or getting into bed to sleep may cause you to start worrying that you will have another sleepless night. That worry then makes it very hard to fall asleep. Stimulus control can help you learn to connect getting ready for bed and being in bed only with being asleep. By using the bed and bedroom only when you’re sleepy, the bed and sleep are linked in your mind. Stimulus control may include the following changes in your sleeping habits:
- Go to bed only when sleepy and get out of bed if you do not fall asleep after a short time. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy.
- Use the bed and bedroom only for sleeping, not for other activities.
Sleep And Cancer Caregivers
While they may be focused on the well-being of a loved one, caregivers of people with cancer frequently encounter their own sleep challenges. In one study, 89% of caregivers of breast cancer patients reported sleeping problems.
Fragmented sleep from nighttime interruptions to provide care, heightened levels of stress and anxiety, and lack of time to address their own health needs can all play a part in poor sleep among caregivers. Unfortunately, that lack of sleep can create risks for their own health, worsen depression, and hinder their ability to effectively provide quality care.
Its important for caregivers to make time for self-care, including trying to develop a sleep schedule that is as stable as possible. Other family members, friends, or local organizations may provide services to help with certain aspects of caregiving, enabling a caregiver to find time to devote to their physical and emotional wellness.
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Colorectal Cancer And Sleep
There has been recent research to support an increase in risk for colon cancer with changes in sleep. Both decreased sleep duration and increased sleep duration have been associated with colorectal cancer in recent studies. There have been many proposed mechanisms for the potential increased risk. Release of inflammatory cytokines in patients with sleep changes can potentially set the stage for the development of colorectal cancer. Additionally, both shorter sleep duration and longer sleep duration have been associated with obesity, which is an independent risk factor for colorectal cancer.,
Zhang and colleagues found that men who slept more than 9 hours per night had an increased risk of colorectal cancer compared with those who slept 7 hours per night. This risk was increased if a patient was overweight with a BMI greater than 25 or was a regular snorer. However, the findings for women in this study were not statistically significant. Having a longer sleep duration increases cortisol secretion along with insulin resistance, resulting in obesity, which is an independent risk factor for colorectal cancer. Moreover, a longer sleep duration leads to increased proinflammatory cytokine release, specifically of IL-1 and TNF, which play a role in new tumor growth. Snoring results in intermittent hypoxia, which can also promote tumor growth.
Make Sleep A Priority
Chronic insufficient sleep often occurs when people choose to sacrifice sleep in favor of work, leisure, or other obligations. To counteract this, its critical to take steps to make sleep a priority:
- Have a consistent sleep schedule: You should strive to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. In planning those times, make sure to budget time to get enough sleep. Once youve settled on your schedule, follow it closely, even on weekends. Stability in your sleep routine helps avoid fluctuations in your nightly sleep.
- Set boundaries in your work and social life: Its easy for the demands of your personal or professional life to chip away at your dedicated time for sleep, so its helpful to set boundaries so that you preserve the full time you need for rest each night.
- Have a bedtime routine: Get yourself ready each night with the same steps such as quietly reading or stretching, putting on pajamas, and brushing your teeth. A steady bedtime routine can put you in the right frame of mind to sleep well each night.
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The Bodys Inflammatory Response
Now we all know that inflammation in the short term is a good thing, Mumby says. Thats how you respond to disease and illness and so on. Its your bodys reaction your bodys temperature goes up so you get a fever and you get these blood responses that result in swelling and heat and pain and redness. That is what is supposed to happen. Then it is supposed to go away, of course. If you get a splinter in your finger and its infected, thats fine, but it should be gone in 3, 4 or 5 days at the most. Its when its chronic that inflammation becomes dangerous.
And this is where chronic lack of sleep can be important. Study after study has shown that if we dont get sufficient sleep, the immune system is wound up and I mean wound up in an unhealthy way not sort of ready to spring into good action.
What happens is, the immune system starts to over-react, more or less immediately. Within a very few nights of poor sleep, your immune system goes into overdrive and then it starts producing inflammatory cytokines, which are bad for us. Those will sort of create the inflammation process. We get a flood of white cells into the blood in response to an infection, of course, that is a good thing, but as I said once the inflammatory response is established and wont go away, that is a very bad idea indeed.
Avoid Things That Can Interfere With Sleep
A useful step in addressing sleep deprivation is to avoid things that can, often unbeknownst to you, negatively affect your sleep:
- Electronic devices: TVs, cell phones, tablets, and computers can keep your mind stimulated, leaving you still wired when you want to go to bed. The light emitted by these devices can also interfere with your circadian rhythm. As a result, its best to avoid using electronic devices for an hour or more before bed.
- Alcohol: Drinking, especially at night, can disrupt your normal sleep cycle, reducing overall sleep quality and consistency.
- Caffeine: As a stimulant, caffeine makes you alert, and because it can stick around in your system for several hours, its best to avoid it in the afternoon and evening.
- Naps: To keep naps from interfering with sleep at night, keep them short and never take them in the late afternoon or later. If you are struggling with insomnia, its best to avoid naps altogether.
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Certain Drugs Or Treatments May Affect Sleep
Common cancer treatments and drugs can affect normal sleep patterns. How well a cancer patient sleeps may be affected by:
Long-term use of certain drugs may cause insomnia. Stopping or decreasing the use of certain drugs can also affect normal sleep. Other side effects of drugs and treatments that may affect the sleep-wake cycle include the following:
- Night sweats or hot flashes.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and being unable to control the bowels.
- Bladder problems, such as irritation or being unable to control urine.
- Breathing problems.
Lack Of Sleep Makes The Body Vulnerable To Infection
One of the risks of sleep deprivation is that the body is more prone to infection. The journal Sleep explains why not getting enough sleep makes a person sick. When experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, it alters cellular immune responses in the body and increases biomarkers of inflammation.
The results of a 2017 study showed that contracting infectious diseases is one of the risks of sleep deprivation. The study found that persistent lack of sleep increased inflammatory cytokines that negatively impacted on the immune system. Adequate sleep has a powerful effect on a persons immunity.
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Does Too Much Sleep Also Cause Cancer
If you sleep more than 9 hours every day, you probably sleep too much. Oversleeping is as big of a problem as sleep deprivation. It has similar consequences as well. The poor immune system, obesity, and depression are some of the consequences.
Sleeping too much bears risks of liver and breast cancer.
Being In The Hospital May Make It Harder To Sleep
Getting a normal nights sleep in the hospital is difficult. The following may affect how well a patient sleeps:
- Hospital environment Patients may be bothered by an uncomfortable bed, pillow, or room temperature noise or sharing a room with a stranger.
- Hospital routine Sleep may be interrupted when doctors and nurses come in to check on you or give you drugs, other treatments, or exams.
Getting sleep during a hospital stay may also be affected by anxiety and the patient’s age.
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Sleep Well To Lower The Chances Of Developing Cancer
Take good care of your sleep because it helps you stay healthy. Pay special attention to your circadian rhythm and night light exposure. It is advisable to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day . Other good sleep habits include ensuring a cool, dark and quiet environment, avoiding any technology, caffeine and big meals prior to bed.
Sleep can keep you safe from cancer. Even so, you should also refrain from other possible carcinogens like tobacco, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle.
Options For Managing Insomnia And Improving Sleep
Not being able to sleep is stressful. You may be feeling weak and fatigued. You may be napping frequently throughout the day, causing sleep disturbances at night. You may be waking more often with nightmares or because you need to use the restroom.
Insomnia may have a direct impact on your ability to enjoy daily aspects of life, such as engaging in social activities, working or spending time with family or friends. It may also negatively affect your mental health, making it that much harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
The good news is that sleep management is possible. Below are some steps you may try if youre experiencing insomnia.
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How Cancer Affects Sleep Quality
Having cancer can create major sleep disruptions, affecting the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
It is estimated that half of all people with cancer have sleep problems. Some studies have found even higher numbers of sleep disturbances with nearly 70% of women with breast and gynecologic cancers having symptoms of insomnia. The rate of disrupted sleep appears to be even higher in patients with advanced cancer, reaching up to 72%.
Even worse, there are indications that these numbers may be underestimated since many cancer patients do not raise sleep concerns with their doctors.
There are numerous potential causes of sleeping problems in people with cancer:
- Pain or discomfort caused by a tumor or by treatment
- Gastrointestinal or urinary problems caused by cancer or its treatment
- Struggles to sleep during hospital stays
- Stress, anxiety, and depression that can result from having cancer
- Infection and fever, which may occur as a result of reduced immune function during chemotherapy
- Cough or difficulty breathing
- Side effects from medications, including pain medications, which may cause drowsiness but interfere with quality sleep
- Disrupted sleep schedule resulting from daytime fatigue and napping
More than one of these factors may contribute to sleeping problems, which can vary for any individual depending on the type of cancer they have, the treatment they are receiving, and their overall health, including coexisting conditions.
Sleep Deprivation Psychosis Is A Real Thing
Sleep deprivation psychosisâwhen the absence of sleep causes a disconnection from reality that can present as hallucinations or delusional thinkingâis a known effect of severe, prolonged sleep deprivation. Here, we explain what you need to know about sleep deprivation psychosis and what you can do about it.
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Can We Increase Survival Rates With Better Sleep
Although cancer diagnosis rates have been steadily increasing over the last few decades, long-term survival rates have too. Thanks to earlier detection and advancements in treatment, approximately two-thirds of those diagnosed will become long-term survivors or continue to live with their disease as a chronic illness that is managed using ongoing treatment.
The amount and quality of sleep is an important albeit often overlooked factor that can contribute to cancer prevention and survival.
A Womens Health Initiative study involving 4,406 women with invasive breast cancer found that poor sleep quality may make cancer more aggressive. Another study using data from 7,500 women with the same diagnosis found that those who slept less than 5 hours a night had a 1.5-fold increased risk of death compared to those that slept 7-8 hours a night.
New research has also shown that a properly functioning circadian rhythm can make treatment more effective, but a disruption may increase the chance of drug resistance. The circadian rhythm plays a role in cell fate, which is why more and more treatments are being timed to increase apoptosis of tumor cells.
Dr. Amanda Phipps is an epidemiologist at Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center and identified a link between pre-diagnosis sleep deprivation and increased breast cancer mortality. She believes that the results of her findings may help women with disease prevention.