Updated at: 20-02-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Some cancers may be exacerbated by long-term sleep deprivation. However, there are additional ways in which sleep is linked to cancer. When undergoing cancer treatment, getting a decent night’s sleep can be a difficulty.

Kathryn Ruble, M.S.N., Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, says roughly one in four childhood cancer survivors had trouble falling and staying asleep in her research. “It’s possible that helping cancer survivors sleep well will boost their performance in school, the workplace, and for the rest of their life.” What is the relationship between cancer and sleep deprivation, and what can you do about it? Researchers have discovered the following.

Long stretches of shift work may increase cancer risk.

These tumors may be more likely to occur if the body’s “biological clock,” which regulates sleep and many other bodily functions, has been disrupted. Working overnight hours and being exposed to light for a long period of time might diminish melatonin levels, which can encourage cancer growth. It’s up to you: “It’s crucial to follow up with prescribed cancer screenings including mammograms, screening tests for colorectal cancer and prostate examinations advised by your doctor,” Ruble says. Ruble says.

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Cancer therapy side effects and emotions can disrupt sleep.

You may have difficulty going asleep and keeping asleep due to a variety of side effects associated with cancer therapy. These include: anxiety, depression, exhaustion, digestive system issues, breathing issues, hot flashes, night sweats, and pain. Actions you can take are as follows: Inform your physician of your sleep deprivation. If you’re in the hospital, ask if you can be interrupted less frequently while you sleep. Meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy can assist. Maintain a consistent sleep and waking schedule. Get outside or sit by a sunny window during the day to help reset your body clock and restrict your intake of caffeine.

Insomnia can bother cancer survivors for years and even decades.

“Lack of sleep has a big influence on anyone’s capacity to function in school or work,” Ruble adds. In young survivors, we’re discovering sleep issues, and we’d like to know if they play a role in their academic difficulties.” Actions you can take are as follows: Aside from the long-term negative effects of medication, activities that disrupt a good night’s sleep may also play an impact, according to Ruble.

A lack of exercise and staying up late to play video games or watch television can also get in the way, she explains. Cancer is a major cause of death and disease in the world’s population. One in every two men and women1 will be diagnosed with cancer at some time in their lives, according to current estimates. With a growing and aging population, those staggering numbers are only going to get even larger.

In order for cancer to develop, a person’s cells must grow abnormally and spread to other parts of the body. Rather than being a single disease, cancer can be caused by a variety of factors. Many sleep researchers are now focusing on the link between sleep and cancer because of the growing understanding of the importance of sleep in general health. Despite the need for further investigation, researchers have discovered a complex relationship. Certain kinds of cancer may be linked to sleep disorders. It’s possible that they have an impact on how quickly cancer spreads and how well treatment works. As a side effect, cancer can also disrupt sleep.

Cancer symptoms and treatment side effects can both impair sleep, which in turn has a negative impact on a patient’s overall well-being. The physical and mental effects of cancer can remain even after treatment has ended, and this can make it difficult for cancer survivors to sleep. There are many ways to improve health by learning about the intricate interaction between cancer and sleep. Even while it’s hard to completely reduce one’s risk of developing cancer, obtaining enough sleep is thought to be protective. People with cancer may benefit from greater sleep in terms of both physical and emotional well-being, allowing them to better cope with the disease.

Can Sleep Affect Cancer?

We know for a fact that sleep is critical to our well-being. Cancer may be affected by sleep in a variety of ways, based on the fact that sleep affects practically every function in the body. The brain, immune system, synthesis and regulation of hormones, metabolism, and body weight may all be affected by sleep in ways that affect cancer risk.

Sleep may affect how cells function, altering their environment or the signals that affect how they grow. While this is still an evolving field of research, the following sections provide an overview of current science about sleep’s potential impacts on cancer risk, progression, and treatment. Any person who is concerned about their sleep or cancer risk should talk with their doctor to understand how this information applies in their specific situation.

Sleep and Cancer Risk

Sleep length, quality, circadian rhythm, and problems have all been linked to an increased risk of developing cancer, according to new research. However, research on this area are not always definitive, which may be due to difficulty in collecting long-term data on sleep.

Sleep Duration

Many studies on the correlation between sleep duration and cancer risk have yielded inconsistent results. There may be differences in results due to the way sleep data is gathered, the types of cancer that are studied, and other factors that can influence cancer risk. The chance of death from any cause is higher for people who sleep less than six hours a night, and a recent study indicated that persons with short sleep have a higher cancer risk as well. Having a short sleep duration has been linked to an increased chance of developing colon polyps, which can then progress to cancer.

Some studies have linked lower sleep duration in older persons to an increased risk of stomach cancer, as well as cancers of the thyroid, bladder, head, and neck in older adults. These investigations, however, are not conclusive. A lack of sleep has not been shown to affect a wide range of cancers, including lung cancer, according to recent studies. People who sleep less than seven or eight hours a night are less likely to develop cancer, according to several studies.

A lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in “wear and tear” on cells, which could lead to DNA damage that can lead to cancer in animals. Sleep and cancer may be linked, even if human research have yet to reveal this conclusively. In addition, a lack of sleep may indirectly increase one’s risk of developing cancer. Obesity, a well-documented risk factor for a wide variety of cancers, has been shown to be correlated with insufficient sleep.

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Lack of sleep has been linked to immune system difficulties, such as chronic inflammation, which is thought to increase the chance of developing cancer. Sleeping more than nine hours a night has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer, according to certain studies. One study indicated that older persons who had less sleep, especially those who were overweight or snored a lot, had a higher chance of developing colorectal cancer. Breast cancer, particularly the estrogen-driven subtype, has been linked to an increased risk of primary liver cancer and long sleep duration.

Sleep Quality

Especially over the long term, it can be even more difficult to precisely quantify sleep quality than sleep duration, making it even more difficult to determine its impact on cancer risk clearly. Fragmented sleep has been shown to enhance tumor growth and progression in mice. More than 10,000 adults over the age of 50 were included in an observational study that indicated a greater cancer risk in those who assessed their sleep quality as poor or average. An additional study of nearly 4,000 women discovered a link between insomnia and the severe form of breast cancer known as triple-negative. Prostate cancer was found to be more prevalent in males who experienced sleep disturbances, with the greatest risk found in those with the most severe sleep disturbances. More research is needed to reproduce and verify these findings, just as there was with regard to the length of time spent sleeping. The number and length of sleep interruptions, for example, may have an impact on the likelihood of acquiring certain types of cancer, as future research may reveal.

Circadian Rhythm

The body’s internal clock, the circadian rhythm, is a 24-hour cycle. In the brain, it is governed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which sends signals throughout the body to regulate activity dependent on the time of day. For this reason, persons who are not exposed to artificial light soon get used to a routine in which they are up during the day and asleep at night. Circadian rhythms can go out of sync with the natural rhythms of the day and night in modern civilization due to factors such as exposure to artificial light, night shifts at work, and frequent travel across time zones.

Cancer development may be influenced by circadian disturbance, which is becoming more and more clear in the research. In the process of cell division and growth, circadian signals play an important role. This has ramifications for the possibility of mutations and DNA damage. The generation and metabolism of hormones, as well as the immune system, are all influenced by the body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm has a broad impact on many biological systems, therefore disrupting it could have an impact on many different types of cancer, including breast, colon, lung, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers.

As a result of this circadian misalignment, people who work shifts are more likely to get cancer than those who do not. Shift employment has been deemed “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Exposure to carcinogens may play a role in disrupting circadian rhythms that may enhance one’s vulnerability to other risk factors, according to some researchers.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been the primary focus of research on the link between sleep disorders and cancer (OSA). A condition called as hypoxia occurs when there are frequent pauses in breathing, causing fragmented sleep and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood. Sleep apnea and its associated hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the blood) have been shown in animal studies to promote tumor growth. Sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in both people and animals.

Hyperoxia exacerbates these alarming side effects, such as immune system dysfunction, chronic low-grade inflammation, oxidative stress, and insomnia by reprogramming immune system cells to be less effective in fighting cancer. Hypoxia-induced sleep apnea may contribute to cancer risk since tumors include areas of low oxygen. As a result of these various biological pathways, there has been no conclusive evidence that OSA is associated with cancer risk. People with moderate to severe OSA are at an increased risk of dying from cancer, according to many major, long-term studies conducted in the United States and Spain. OSA has been linked to breast cancer in smaller studies.

Cancers of the prostate, uterus, lung, thyroid, and kidney, as well as malignant melanoma have been related to severe OSA. In spite of this, not all researchers have discovered the same patterns of cancer risk or death in people with OSA, and a few studies have even reported fewer cancer incidences in those with the condition. A lack of data on which patients were receiving therapy for OSA, as well as the fact that OSA is linked to a variety of other illnesses, such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, could explain some of the discrepancies in study.

Sleep and Cancer Progression

Cancer’s growth and progression may be influenced by the quality of one’s sleep. Cancer’s aggressiveness may be influenced by factors connected to cancer risk, such as the impact of sleep on hormones, metabolism, and inflammation, although more research is needed to confirm this potential connection.

Sleeping more than nine hours each night has been linked to an increased risk of death from breast cancer and other causes in women with the disease. Breast cancer recurrence was found to be linked to sleep that was out of sync with the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Many studies have found a link between short naps as a child and a higher risk of death from colorectal cancer, but none have proven a direct link between sleep deprivation and the disease itself. Because tumors are more easily metastasized due to hypoxia and sleep fragmentation, obstructive sleep apnea may play a role in cancer progression.

Sleep and Cancer Treatment

Patients’ responses to cancer treatment may be influenced by their sleep patterns, and a better knowledge of circadian rhythms could lead to more effective cancer treatments. Depending on the time of day the medication is administered, cancer cells may be more susceptible or resistant to the treatment. Cicada rhythms influence many cancer therapies that aim to target certain cellular proteins, enzymes, receptors, or enzymes.

Chronotherapy is a cancer treatment component that uses a person’s circadian rhythm to maximize radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. It is currently in development. Chronotherapy, according to certain theories, could help cancer treatments kill more cancer cells while also causing less harm to good tissue than current methods. New cancer-fighting medications may also be created by utilizing our growing understanding of circadian rhythms. Circadian timing, for example, has been proven to have a favorable effect on numerous types of cancer, with early-stage trials showing promising outcomes.

Cancer patients’ recovery and response to therapy may be affected by their ability to get a good night’s sleep. It has been found that women undergoing breast cancer surgery have a higher risk of problems and a longer length of hospital stay if they have difficulty sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea may affect the efficacy of several cancer treatments, according to studies. Disrupted breathing may hinder the effectiveness of several types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy because oxygen levels in the tumor tissue must be high for these therapies to be effective.

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Sleep, Hormones, and Cancer

Some “natural killer” cells are released when cortisol levels are high. This helps regulate the immune system, which is important for battling cancer. After a long night’s sleep, cortisol levels rise in the early morning then fall during the day.

According to Spiegel, women who work the night shift are more likely to have a “shifted cortisol cycle,” in which their cortisol levels peak in the afternoon, than those who sleep during the day. Several studies have shown that these women are more likely to die from breast cancer than other women.

Cortisol patterns are more likely to be irregular in those who wake up frequently during the night, he says.

Among the many stress-related hormones released by the body, cortisol is one that may contribute to the onset or aggravation of cancer and other diseases.

Melatonin is the other sleep-related hormone. Melatonin, which is produced by the brain during sleep, may have antioxidant characteristics that help prevent cell damage that can lead to cancer.

Melatonin also reduces ovarian estrogen production. As a result, a lack of sleep results in a deficiency in the hormone melatonin. This sequence of events may increase the risk of breast cancer in women by exposing them to excessive doses of estrogen.

Melatonin production is reduced in women who work night shifts, according to Spiegel.

When it comes to cancer, “there’s a definite hormonal rhythm that is altered by sleep, which can indicate a more fast progression,” he says.

How to sleep well is very straightforward if you allow yourself to do so. They take on too much and do not give their bodies adequate time to deal with the sickness. This is a major problem for cancer patients. To avoid burdening their loved ones, they’re concerned about meeting their responsibilities and keeping up with their normal routines.”

In fact, his study, published in the October edition of Brain, Behavior and Immunity, makes this quite clear. It suggests that one of the many mind-body interactions that could affect a cancer patient’s prognosis is the quality of one’s sleep.

Sleep, Stress, and Cancer

As previously documented in other studies, cancer patients who are able to control their stress through group therapy, strong personal social ties, or regular physical activity tend to fare better than those who are unable to.

Depression and anxiety have a distinct pattern of sleep disruptions.” In addition, “you don’t handle stress as effectively if you had a lousy night of sleep,” says Spiegel. As a result, those who are better able to cope with stress are more likely to sleep well.

Stressed women may be twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who remain calm in the face of adversity, according to a recent study in Sweden.

Stress management is one of Spiegel’s recommendations for cancer patients. When you follow your grandmother’s advice to eat healthily and get plenty of sleep as well as get lots of exercise, you’ll help your body better handle cancer.

The importance of excellent sleep hygiene in treating cancer may have been overstated. “No,” says the American Cancer Society’s Dr. Len Lichtenfeld,

“However, is this something that individuals should keep in mind?” As far as I know, he’s saying yes.

Bottom line: There’s enough evidence to support the idea of how our bodies respond to cancer being affected by more than simply surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Both stress and sleep deprivation can have an impact, therefore they should not be ignored.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep and Cancer Risk

Does Sleeping With a Light on Increase Cancer Risk?

Some study suggests that exposure to artificial light at night may affect cancer risk, albeit it is not conclusive. The body’s circadian rhythm is aided by darkness, which triggers the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Melatonin has been shown in animal tests to prevent tumor growth and aid in the repair of DNA damage. In theory, then, sleeping with the lights on could disrupt natural circadian rhythms and increase the risk of cancer.

People who slept in a bedroom with a lot of artificial light at night were found to have a higher risk of prostate cancer, but a lower risk of breast cancer. Since there are so many conflicting data, additional research is needed to determine if light exposure while sleeping is a substantial risk factor for cancer.

Can You Get Cancer by Sleeping Next to Your Phone?

Using your phone while you sleep does not raise your risk of cancer. There is no evidence that cell phone radiation, which is called non-ionizing radiation, causes DNA damage. The only known biological consequence of cell phone radiation is warmth. Researchers have not discovered any evidence that cell phone users are at greater risk of developing brain tumors or other types of cancer.

For this reason, some specialists advise against using a cell phone near your ear for lengthy periods of time, even though there is no definite relationship between cell phones and cancer. Keeping your phone in a drawer or on a nightstand may be the best option. Aside from the cancer risk, technology in the bedroom can disrupt sleep and make it easier to fall asleep if you don’t bring it with you.

Does Sleeping With a Bra Cause Breast Cancer?

Cancer is not caused by wearing a bra while sleeping. Studies have shown that wearing a bra while sleeping does not increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer in any way, and there is no reasonable biological explanation for why this may produce the DNA changes in cells that are needed to start a cancer.

How Cancer Affects Sleep Quality

An individual’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night may be adversely affected if they have cancer. Cancer patients are expected to suffer from sleep disorders in 50% of all cases. It has been reported in certain research that as many as 70% of women with breast and gynecological malignancies experience sleep difficulties. In patients with advanced cancer, the rate of interrupted sleep appears to be significantly higher, reaching up to 72%. Since many cancer patients do not bring up sleep issues with their doctors, it is possible that these figures are underestimated. People with cancer may experience difficulty sleeping for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Tumor-related or treatment-related pain or discomfort
  • Cancer-related gastrointestinal and urinary issues
  • Having trouble falling asleep while in the hospital
  • Cancer-related symptoms of stress, anxiety, and sadness
  • As a result of chemotherapy’s effect on the immune system, infections and fever may arise.
  • Sneezing or trouble breathing
  • Drowsiness and sleep deprivation are also possible side effects of drugs such as painkillers.
  • Daytime tiredness and snoozing lead to a thrown off sleep schedule.

Individuals with different types of cancer, treatments, and general health, including pre-existing diseases, may experience different types of sleeping difficulties. Other types of sleep disturbances can be brought on by cancer and cancer therapy. Most cancer patients reported experiencing restless legs, which is the need to move one’s legs while resting down. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be a side effect of some types of jaw surgery for malignancies of the head and neck.

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What sleep problems are common in people being treated for cancer?

Many cancer patients suffer from insomnia, which is defined as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.

What causes sleep problems?

Side effects of treatment, medication, protracted hospital stays, stress and other causes may induce sleep disorders. According to research, up to half of all cancer patients experience sleep-related issues while undergoing treatment.

How are sleep problems assessed?

Any sleep disorder can be accurately diagnosed and treated using a polysomnogram (a recording of brain waves, breathing rate, and other activities such as heart rate) by your doctor or a sleep specialist. There may be a need for additional assessments in the future if the patient’s sleeping problems evolve. Find out if a sleep study is right for you, what to expect, and what your doctor might suggest afterward. Learn more here.

Why is a good night’s sleep important?

A good night’s sleep is critical to your physical and mental well-being. Think more clearly, lower your blood pressure, boost your appetite and immune system if you get a good night’s sleep. Having a long-term sleep disorder may increase the risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Ways to manage sleep problems

Consult your medical team if you are having trouble sleeping so that you can get the assistance you require. You and your medical team can take actions to get you back to sleeping soundly.

  • Tell your doctor if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Pain or other side effects, such as urinary and bladder difficulties, or diarrhea, may improve your sleep if you receive therapy.
  • Relaxation therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be helpful. Relaxation can be achieved through the use of these modalities. A CBT therapist, for example, can assist you in developing new, more positive sleep beliefs and ideas. Muscle relaxation, guided visualization, and self-hypnosis are all possible aids to your recovery.
  • Establish regular routines for going to bed and waking up in the morning. When it’s time to wind down for the night, make sure you’re in a dark, peaceful place with a supportive mattress. Take a break from bed if you can’t fall asleep, then return to bed when you’re ready to go back to sleep. Stop using electronic gadgets a few hours before you go to bed to avoid disrupting your sleep cycle. Make sure you don’t drink or eat too much before going to bed. Sleep deprivation might occur if you exercise too close to bedtime.
  • Sleep aids may be prescribed in some cases. If nothing else works, your doctor may recommend a short-term course of sleep medication. If you’re having difficulties getting or staying asleep, your doctor may prescribe a sleep aid to help you get some shut-eye.

Talking with your health care team about sleep problems

Before your visit, write down a list of questions that you intend to ask. You might want to include the following on your list:

  • Why can’t I fall asleep?
  • I’m not sure what to talk to you about.
  • What can I do to get a better night’s sleep?
  • Are there any sleep specialists you know of who could help me with the issues I’m having?
  • Is it possible that I should take a sleeping pill?

Improving Sleep and Coping With Cancer

Those with cancer who are having trouble sleeping should get help from a doctor who can explain their symptoms, what is causing them, and what the best treatment options are. It’s no secret that sleep deprivation has a detrimental effect on cancer patients’ physical and mental well-being.

A good night’s sleep may be improved by both psychotherapy and medicine. CBT-I, which aims to reframe people’s negative sleep ideas, has been shown to improve sleep and mood while strengthening the immune system in trials of women with breast cancer.

When CBT-I is used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals, it may be even more successful at enhancing sleep and overall well-being. Upgrading one’s sleep hygiene, including the environment in which one sleeps and the routines one follows, might be beneficial for cancer patients. Consistent sleep schedules, a welcoming bed and bedroom, and limiting electronic device use in the hours leading up to night are a few examples of these enhancements.

Sleep and Cancer Survivorship

A cancer diagnosis can have a substantial impact on a person’s life in a number of ways. Survivors of cancer face a wide range of obstacles due to the long-term physical and emotional repercussions of the disease and its treatment. Breast cancer survivors who had been diagnosed between six months and five years before to the study were shown to have an above-average difficulty sleeping. One of the most crucial aspects of a person’s health is sleep. Survivors of childhood cancer may find it particularly important to address their sleep issues.

There are several long-term repercussions from childhood cancer and its treatment, including both physical and mental development. Reducing these effects and bolstering the immune system may be achieved through enough sleep. Talk to your doctor about building a wellness plan that includes more than simply sleep, such as food, exercise, and follow-up appointments. It’s possible to incorporate sleep hygiene practices into this approach in order to cultivate better sleep habits.

Sleep and Cancer Caregivers

While caring for a loved one with cancer, caregivers may face their own sleep issues as a result. In a research, 89 percent of breast cancer patients’ carers reported difficulty sleeping. Caregivers’ sleep problems can be exacerbated by a variety of factors, including interrupted sleep due to caregiving duties, increased stress and worry, and a lack of time to attend to one’s own health.

In addition to compromising their own health, sleep deprivation can exacerbate melancholy and impair their capacity to offer high-quality care. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and taking care of one’s own needs are essential for caretakers. Some aspects of caring can be assisted by other family members, friends, or local groups, allowing the carer to dedicate more time to their own physical and emotional well-being.
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