Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sleep Problems Linked to Breast Cancer

Thank goodness that Ryan always sleeps
a lot better than his mommy does!
I’ve had trouble falling asleep at night for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I usually had dark circles under my eyes as a result of not sleeping well.  As a teenager and in college, I stayed up later than anybody I knew because my body had the most energy at night.  Even into my twenties, with a full-time teaching job, I would come home exhausted but still lay awake in bed for hours before I could actually fall asleep.  (This made it really hard to get up early, since I was usually going on less than four or five hours of sleep.)  I never understood how other people could just fall asleep whenever they chose to, when every single night was an inner struggle for me.

According to this article in the Washington Post, “sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and chronic insomnia, can lead to serious health problems, and difficulty sleeping may be a red flag for a serious illness.”  Sleep deprivation can bring on inflammation of the body and also a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

This study in the Journal of National Cancer Institute shows that “breast cancer risk was increased among subjects who frequently did not sleep during the period of the night when melatonin levels are typically at their highest”.  If we are exposed to light during the hours of “nonpeak sleep,” (usually around 1am and 2am) our bodies do not produce very much melatonin.  Melatonin is a hormone produced at night that prevents tumor cells from growing, is linked to DNA repair, and helps with protection against cancer.  If we are not sleeping throughout night, we are not getting enough of it.  People are often awake during “nonpeak sleep” for a variety of reasons, including night work, anxiety, insomnia, etc. 

I’ve had chronic insomnia since about high school, and I have rarely ever gone to sleep before 2am since then.  Even when I get into bed really early, my body won’t fall asleep until much later, around 4am.  The study shows that “experiencing at least 4.6 years of frequent nonpeak sleep is associated with a twofold increase in the risk of breast cancer”.  Well, I have been experiencing it for about 12 years!  It is scary for me to learn that sleeping at normal times is extremely important to my health.  I knew that there were certain risk factors for cancer, but I never fell into any of the other categories.  I now realize that the only one that I have had is sleep deprivation.

“Being fatigued before chemotherapy even begins might make fatigue during chemotherapy worse,” according to this article from NIH Public Access.  This is true for me, as my sleep has become even worse, and I am definitely still experiencing fatigue: sleepiness during the day and poor sleep at night.  I have tried sleeping pills (which don’t work in the long term), trying to set my own circadian rhythms, avoiding caffeine, etc.  Nothing has worked. 

This past week, I have been learning about a concept called mindfulness.  So far, I have noticed some very good results, which I will share in my next post.

I really have to somehow get my body to sleep when it needs to!  Has anyone else had any similar experiences/recommendations for sleep?


  1. Wow, that is some pretty crazy but interesting stuff. I suppose it makes some sense, since sleep time is the time our body heals and repairs itself, and I know I am way more likely to get colds and stuff like that when I am sleep deprived. Still, that's kind of crazy!

  2. Have you ever considered melatonin supplements?

  3. Heya, I just stumbled across your blog a few minutes ago. I just wanted to let you know I've suffered with mild insomnia for about a year, and I noticed you have an iPhone because there is a hypnotist whos apps I have which help SOOO much.
    He's called Andrew Johnson, I don't know if you've ever heard of him but he has relaxation apps for a variety of problems. My favourites are his healing, Deep Sleep, and Stress free. They're quite cheap to buy. I'm not sure of the exact cost in dollars because I live in Ireland.
    However if you wanted to try him out he has 2 sample apps for free, ones just Relax with Andrew Johnson, and the others Energy Boost with Andrew Johnson.

    I really highly reccomend these for anyone who has issues with sleeping/relaxing.

    (I am not affiliated with Andrew Johnson in any way I am just a fan of his and I want to share his brilliant work with others! :) )


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