• Denise

Sleep Deprivation and Cancer: The Protective Power of Sleep


Most of us know that a good night’s sleep can improve our energy, mood, productivity and general sense of well-being and unfortunately many individuals are not getting enough. With individuals trying to squeeze more into their days due to increased workloads, travel and too much screen time, sleep has become undervalued by many. It has been estimated that at least a third of adult Americans report not regularly getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night. In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, respondents were asked to prioritize a number of behaviors/factors in their lives including sleep. Of highest importance was fitness and nutrition (35%) followed by work (27%), hobbies/interests (17%), sleep (10%), and finally social life (9%). With sleep being so low on the priority list it is no wonder we have a sleep deprived nation.


Quality, as well as quantity of sleep are both vital to good health and in fact insufficient sleep is related to a number of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression, and possibly some types of cancer. In addition to increasing the risk for chronic illnesses, lack of sleep can lead to a higher incidence of accidents, especially due to impaired driving ability. According to The American Sleep Association, between 50-60 million Americans have a sleep disorder, which could potentially be treatable.


Considering we sleep about a third of lives, there has to be more at play than the sense of feeling well rested after a good solid 7-8 hours of sleep. In fact, sleep is a time for the body to repair and heal. Sleep Medicine has become a specialty as more knowledge has been gained through the years about the physiologic benefits of sleep. Our bodies need rest and sleep to manage the daily stressors of life. Our bodies have a natural rhythm, which sleep is a part of, and during times of sleep certain hormones and immune-enhancing cells, the body’s natural defense mechanisms, are actively helping our bodies repair cellular damage that naturally occurs.


Sleep has been called a “natural antioxidant” by some sleep scientists. Studies have found that sleep enhances the blockage of free radical damage and it is known that this type of damage leads to inflammation and impaired immune function. With cancer being a disease often related to excessive inflammation and immune impairment some in the scientific community have classified sleep deprivation as a “probable” carcinogen. Studies have found that chronic sleep deprivation, less than 6.5 hours/night, is associated with higher mortality and an increasing number of studies are now addressing the relationship to cancer in particular.

In a 2012 study among postmenopausal women, it was found that chronic lack of sleep was associated with a higher incidence of an aggressive form of breast cancer and the affected women had a higher risk of recurrence following treatments compared to those with longer sleep duration. In another study focused on advanced colon cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, those that maintained more normal sleeping patterns survived longer than those with disrupted circadian rhythms and poor sleep. While more research continues to address the relationship between sleep and cancer risk, as well as survival, there is enough evidence around the other benefits of sleep for good health that we need to make a shift in the priority of sleep in our lives.


There are many non-pharmacologic strategies for achieving better sleep including regular aerobic exercise, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, relaxation breathing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and possibly light therapy during the day. Avoidance of electronic screens, including TV, phones, and computers about an hour before bedtime can also help towards a good night’s sleep. Also, with the existence of more sleep centers around the country to help diagnosis and treat specific sleep disorders, individuals with chronic sleep deprivation have more options available to them to finally get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis.


“Prioritizing good sleep is good self-love” Danielle Laporte


Sending wishes for a good night’s sleep – Sweet dreams!

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