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Sleep Deprivation And Cancer Risk – How Getting Enough Sleep Could Reduce Cancer Risk

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

Sleep Deprivation, Cancer RiskOur 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 Suppression

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.

How Much Sleep Should You Get?

How do we prevent the effects sleep deprivation has on the body?
The answer may seem simple – get enough sleep – but how much sleep is “enough” sleep for you? In general, experts agree that four to five sleep cycles is the basis for a good night’s sleep, and can provide the body with an adequate amount of cycling through REM and other stages of sleep.
The recommended amount of sleep tends to decrease as we age:
– Babies should get 16+ hours per day, and less as they get older.
– Children should receive about 10 hours of sleep per night.
– Teenagers should aim for 9 hours of sleep each night.
– Adults need 7 to 8 hours of restorative sleep.
Try Using Essential Oils for Better Sleep

Sleep Should Be Restorative Sleep

It isn’t enough to simply lie in bed and sleep for approximately 7 hours, however; sleep should be restorative. That is, sleep should be quality sleep and uninterrupted by outside elements like TV, or internal elements like sleep apnea and recurring insomnia. As we age, sleep issues like these become more common.

Unfortunately, if you already have cancer, some of the side effects are sleep-inhibitors themselves. Anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions often associated with cancer can make it hard to sleep. Side effects as a result of chemotherapy and other medical interventions, such as night terrors, hot flashes, and night sweats, may interfere with sleep as well.

What Should You Do?

It can take effort to get the proper amount of adequate, restorative sleep:

  • Set aside enough time to allow you to fall asleep naturally, and get at least 7 hours of restful sleep.
  • Eliminate bedroom sources of light and distraction, such as night lights, cell phones, and TVs.
  • Try relaxation or deep breathing techniques to help yourself settle into sleep.
  • If possible, avoid stimulants such as caffeine and medications in the evenings.
  • As a last resort, consider artificial melatonin or other sleep aids, though these often produce less restorative sleep.
Now that studies have shown sleep deprivation leads to higher cancer risk assessment, ensuring you are getting adequate sleep is more important than ever. Try some of these tips or speak with your physician about how you can lower your risk of cancer and achieve longer, more restful sleep. Remember that a good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for everything.


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