How sleepless nights compromise your ability to combat cancer

April 26, 2019

You may already know that getting lots of quality sleep is an important part of healing, but did you know it matters when you get your sleep, too? Improving our odds against cancer doesn’t just require enough sleep, but also to get the bulk of our sleep at night. Studies have shown that men who work night shifts and sleep during the day have higher rates of prostate cancer. The reason for this correlation may be traced back to a hormone called melatonin, which is only released at night when it is dark.

Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body suppress the production of estrogen, a possible contributor to prostate cancer growth according to recent research. If we consistently fail to go through full cycles of sleep each night, our body may end up producing less melatonin. This deficiency inhibits our immune system, which in turn inhibits our body’s innate ability to combat cancer. any exposure to light during sleep disrupts our production of melatonin, which why sleeping around any electronic device that emits light is not recommended.

Cortisol is another hormone that is affected by poor sleep habits. Cortisol helps to regulate immune system activity, including the release of certain “natural killer” cells that help our body battle cancer. Cortisol levels typically peak at dawn, after hours of overnight sleep, and decline throughout the day. Disrupting this pattern may possibly contribute to cancer progression.

For example, female night shift workers—who have been shown to have higher rates of breast cancer than women who sleep normal hours—are more likely to have a “shifted cortisol rhythm,” in which their cortisol levels peak in the afternoon. Studies have shown that women with shifted cortisol rhythms may die earlier from breast cancer, a finding with potential implications for prostate cancer patients since breast and prostate are hormone-sensitive diseases with similar modes of development and progression.

As part of your post-diagnosis care, ensure you’re not only getting enough sleep, but that you’re getting as much of it between sunset and sunrise as possible.