Can Sleep Affect Cancer?

Nowadays, we have more than enough evidence confirming that consistently getting good sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. Sleep quality affects every system in the human body, from the cardiovascular system to the immune system. 

So it’s easy to understand why compromised sleep quality can weaken our bodies and eventually lead to the development of health problems, some of them of a serious nature.

For example, researchers have documented the connection between sleep disorders and various types of cancers. The exact nature of this connection is still being investigated, but so far we know that poor sleep quality interferes with cell function and can alter cellular growth. And as you may know, abnormal cell function or cell growth are some of the causes of cancerous disease.

Along the same lines, we now know that untreated sleep disorders can impair the immune system, body metabolism, and hormone production. In turn, this can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep quality: Sleep quality is a subjective concept, so measuring it accurately can be difficult. But medical studies have found that people aged 50 and above who reported poor quality sleep had a higher-than-average risk of developing cancer.

Other studies have examined the impact of poor-quality sleep on women. The findings suggest that women who described their sleep as restless were more likely to develop aggressive breast tumors. Research has produced similar findings in men who were affected by prostrate tumors, and concluded that this disease was prevalent in individuals who had trouble falling and staying asleep.

Sleep duration: Although there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much sleep is needed to function, the general consensus is that getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep every night has a negative impact on health. A 4-year study found a correlation between insufficient sleep (6 hours or less) and serious health conditions, especially stroke and cancer (stomach, colon, bladder, and thyroid).

In lab studies, some researchers traced this connection back to the fact that insufficient sleep puts additional pressure on the body’s cells. This extra tear and wear can damage cells and their DNA. 

On the other hand, excessive sleep can also increase the risk of developing cancer. More than 9 hours every night could alter the functioning of hormones and result in elevated risk of breast, liver, and colorectal tumors. 

Circadian rhythm disruption

Disruption of the circadian rhythm (our internal body clock) is common in modern society. This internal clock is mainly ruled by light exposure, and today we’re constantly exposed to artificial light beyond daylight hours and blue light emitted by electronic devices. Circadian rhythms can also be altered by shift or night work. 

Over time, this disruption can lead to abnormal hormone production and cellular damage, which can make people more vulnerable to cancer, especially those affecting the ovaries, breasts, lungs, colon, liver, and pancreas.

Severe sleep disorders

Sleep disorders affect more than 30% the adult population. Some of these conditions (like obstructive sleep apnea) pose serious health risks that could potentially include tumor growth. 

People affected by obstructive sleep apnea experience loud snoring as well as multiple breathing and sleep interruptions every night. In some cases, their sleep cycle is interrupted up to 100 times, causing excessive daytime fatigue, a weaker immune system, and a higher risk of developing heart problems and diabetes.

In addition, untreated sleep apnea can cause oxygen deprivation in the brain, which is a risk factor for the appearance of cancerous cells. And once tumors appear, the adverse effects of sleep apnea can contribute to faster cancer progression.

Talk to a SleepQuest sleep specialist

Given the potential dangers associated with poor or insufficient sleep, it’s important to monitor sleep quality and seek professional help if you have difficulty sleeping. 

Discussing your symptoms and concerns with a SleepQuest sleep specialist is the first step in finding the root cause of sleep disorders. 

In some cases, the symptoms improve or disappear after making certain lifestyle changes, such as: 

      - Following a regular sleep schedule, going to sleep and waking at the same time every day, including weekends.

      - Modifying your diet so you don’t eat heavy, spicey meals late at night.

      - Exercising frequently, as this helps the body relax and reduces stress, which enhances sleep.

      - Quitting smoking, as this has multiple negative effects on the body, increasing risk for sleep disorders as well as cancer.

Ensuring optimal sleep quality is even more important if you’ve been diagnosed with any form of cancer. Being well-rested can strengthen the body’s defense system and boost your emotional well-being. Some studies also suggest better sleep can improve your odds of enjoying a long life.

Our sleep specialist can help

Depending on the cause of your sleep problem, our specialist will discuss several treatment options available -- some of them are covered by insurance. At SleepQuest, we’re here to help you cope with sleep problems -- including sleep apnea -- so that you enjoy stronger health and a longer life.