Researchers have linked the amount of sleep a person gets to the overall health of the body – sleep allows us to repair our bodies from the assaults of everyday life as well as fight off disease. Recently, however, doctors have also linked sleep deprivation and cancer risk and are touting the benefits of getting enough sleep to aid in cancer prevention.
Adequate Sleep Is Important
Our bodies need sleep; not only do we feel better when we get enough sleep, but we function better too. In fact, studies link getting a proper amount of sleep to better focus, quicker reflexes, and improved higher reasoning. It follows that a lack of sleep can result in impaired reasoning, reflex time, and productivity, as well as an overall feeling of malaise.
In addition to brain function, proper sleep can help improve all the major body tissues and functions:
- Cardiovascular. During sleep, alterations in blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate rise and fall, conditioning these vital systems.
- Endocrine. Hormones released during sleep can help control weight by improving the body’s use of energy. Also, the sleep-wake cycle regulates kidney function.
- Skin. Restful sleep restores adequate blood flow to the skin, improving cell repair and function.
- Muscles. Adequate sleep allows replenishment of glycogen, producing optimal muscle energy.
- Bones. Research shows that sleep may aid in bone formation and promote bone density.
What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Sleep has restorative effects on the brain, immune system, and body systems, so when we don’t get enough of it, those restorative efforts are cut short. Brain function is an obvious casualty of reduced sleep, but the other body systems suffer as well.
- Cardiovascular. Insufficient sleep links to increased bodily inflammation, which can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Endocrine. Inflammation resulting from a lack of sleep can result in insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes.
- Skin. Lack of sleep reduces blood flow to the skin, leading to dull, sallow skin, and a decrease in the skin’s ability to repair itself.
- Muscles. An individual not getting enough sleep often lacks optimal amounts of blood glycogen, a condition that slows muscle growth.
- Bones. Poor sleep has been associated with decreased bone density and osteoporosis.
Sleep Deprivation And Cancer Risk
We’ve shown that lack of sleep negatively affects the brain and body, but how does it affect your chance of developing cancer? It appears that sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk of cancer in more than one way.
Studies have shown that insufficient sleep can cause chronic inflammation, the body’s response to some outside threat like a virus or other illness. Short-term inflammation is a good thing, but the long-term, chronic inflammation produced by a lack of sleep leads to a lasting increase of white blood cells in the body. However, eventually the body tires and isn’t able to keep producing white blood cells at the rates necessary to fight new diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Cancer in particular introduces unfamiliar cells into the body that eventually multiply and grow out of control, producing a tumor. Chronic inflammation as the result of sleep deprivation inhibits the body’s immune response to these unfamiliar cells, allowing cancer cells to stay, multiply, and spread. This is particularly evident in breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Melatonin, a hormone made in the pineal gland, regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles. The body produces melatonin as a response to your its internal clock as well as the amount of sunlight exposure you’re receiving. If you’re not sleeping well – whether due to too much natural light, as experienced by some working the night shift, or too much artificial light provided by cell phones or TV – your body will not make enough melatonin.
In addition to promoting sleep, melatonin appears to protect the body against the DNA damage that is a precursor for cancer. Without melatonin to repair DNA and act as a tumor suppressor, cancer multiplies and spreads freely. Studies have shown that melatonin suppression particularly affects ovarian and breast cancer as well as prostate, lung and colorectal cancer.