No matter who you are or where you live, it’s likely cancer has impacted your life in one way or another. It’s a sobering fact: About 20% of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. So, what steps do you take to avoid this reality for yourself? The options are wide and varied.
You get your regular screenings, mammograms, and prostate exams. You quit smoking. You stay out of the sun. If you’re health-conscious, you make an effort to lower your cancer risk in every area possible. But what many people don’t realize is that there’s another, less discussed daily habit that can impact your chances of developing cancer: the amount (and quality) of sleep you get.
While a lack of sleep is never a good thing for your health, when cancer is involved, the stakes suddenly become higher.
What Is the Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Cancer?
1. Disrupted Cell Growth
According to a study done by Penn Medicine, a disruption in the circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) can contribute to the development of cancer in your body. Cancer disrupts cell growth and multiplication at the DNA level. Signals in the circadian rhythm are responsible for how cells effectively grow and multiply at that DNA level. So, if those signals are off, cell growth and multiplication can also be thrown off as a result and lead to disruptions in the body—including the development of cancer.
2. Reduced Natural Killer Cells
“Natural killer cells” are a type of white blood cell that fights tumor and virus cells. Although sleep deprivation makes it harder to fight off common illnesses like the cold or flu, it also reduces your ability to fight off malignant cancer cells by reducing the number of natural killer cells in your body.
In fact, regularly getting fewer than four hours of sleep a night may reduce your natural killer cells by up to 70%. This leaves your body incredibly vulnerable to malignant and viral conditions, as well as cancer.
Studies show that colon, breast, and prostate cancer are the most common types of cancers to result from sleep deprivation. In fact, lack of sleep can be so serious at times, that the World Health Organization has considered calling night work a “probable carcinogen.”
3. Increased Inflammation and Tumors
Your sympathetic nervous system is also affected by sleep deprivation. This is the system that allows your body to respond to stress (i.e., your ‘fight or flight’ response). Research has shown that the overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system can promote the survival and growth of cancer cells.
When you are sleep deprived, it often leads to inflammation in the body. When this inflammation is present, it can contribute to the growth of tumors in the body—much like adding gasoline to a fire.
Even worse, sleep deprivation and inflammation in the body can cause a tumor to metastasize. This can lead to the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Sleep Deprivation and Cancer: The Evolving Research
In one particular European study, researchers evaluated nearly 25,000 participants to examine the link between sleep and cancer. They found that people who slept less than six hours per night were at a 40% increased risk of developing cancer. This was in comparison to those who slept more than seven hours on average each night.
Sleep deprivation can not only contribute to cancer developing in the body, but it can also quicken its progression once it’s present. Like sleep, cancer usually affects hormones, metabolism, and inflammation in the body—all of which can speed cancer growth.
Unfortunately, the presence of cancer can also negatively impact sleep quality once someone has developed the tumor. In this way, a lack of sleep then just compounds the problem. If someone has a cancer diagnosis, it’s vital they get good sleep to stay as healthy as they can fight
The Bottom Line
Getting consistent and high-quality sleep is an essential (and easy) daily habit you can develop to lower your risk of cancer. Sleep helps you maintain a regular circadian rhythm that, in turn, promotes healthy cell growth and reproduction. Getting seven hours or more of quality sleep each night also helps maintain important “natural killer cells” and a properly functioning sympathetic nervous system. All of these bodily functions are vital to keeping you healthy and cancer-free.
Looking for support to build healthier habits, such as better sleeping patterns? Learn more about how an Arootah Coach can help.
How do you make sure you get proper sleep? Tell us in the comments!