Want to Prevent Cancer? Make Sure You Sleep Well

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October 22, 2003 | 69,943 views

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Rachael Droege

Many of us rush through our days and nights without taking the time to get a good night’s sleep. Would you pay more attention to your sleep habits if they could help to prevent cancer? Well, they certainly can, so if you feel you need a good excuse to get some quality sleep, this is it.

How well you sleep can seriously alter the balance of hormones in your body. This can then disrupt your sleep/wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm. A disrupted circadian rhythm may influence cancer progression through shifts in hormones like melatonin, which the brain makes during sleep.

According to Brain Behavior Immunology October 2003, having a regular circadian rhythm may be necessary in order for your body to defend against cancer, and sleep/wake rhythms that are disrupted due to stress or other issues may promote cancer growth.

Melatonin is an antioxidant that helps to suppress harmful free radicals in the body and slows the production of estrogen, which can activate cancer. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body may produce less melatonin and therefore may have less ability to fight cancer.

Exposure to light during the night can also reduce melatonin levels, which is why it is important to sleep in total darkness to decrease the risk of cancer. Another link between cancer and the disrupted circadian rhythm lies with a hormone called cortisol, which normally reaches peak levels at dawn then declines throughout the day. Cortisol is one of many hormones that help regulate immune system activity, including the activity of a group of immune cells called natural-killer cells that help the body battle cancer.

Yet another mechanism that may be related to the cancer/sleep association is the hormone insulin. University of Chicago researchers have repeatedly shown that insufficient sleep will result in an increased rate of diabetes due to increased insulin resistance, and insulin has been clearly linked to cancer in previous studies.

We all know that sleep is important. The research is quite clear that insufficient rest will result in increased rates of cancer and diabetes, while optimizing your sleep can slow down the aging process. If you need some help getting a good night’s sleep, you can review the sleep guidelines that seem to help many of our patients.

I recently attended a conference with Dr. Deepak Chopra and thought that many could also benefit from the following tips from his Insomnia Protocol: