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Sleep and breast cancer

Medical professionals noted that breast cancer is increasing globally for unknown reasons. Surprisingly the statistics show that women living in poor countries where there is less electric lighting, less access to computers and modern technologies are less likely to get breast cancer. Actually European and American women are at higher risk of breast cancer. Why?

Modern life is full of increasing use of electricity for night time lighting, television, computers, cell phones and other devices which not only changed our lifestyles and sleep habits but can potentially change our hormonal rhythms.

Is there any links between sleep (lack of sleep) and breast cancer? Why night sleep is so important? How much sleep we need for minimizing all risks for breast cancer? What is known about sleep and breast cancer?

Some researchers suggest that indoor lighting and devices that produce light at night could increase risks for getting cancer and if you miss your night sleep or if you sleep in light, you may be potentially at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. But why?

Scientists found the correlation between risk of breast cancer and melatonin (so called “hormone of darkness”), a hormone produced by the body to promote continued sleep. When levels of melatonin decrease, the body produces more estrogen, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer.

It was noted that both melatonin and cortisol hormones that are produced at night are believed to play an important role in fighting off cancer.

According to Dr. Richard G. Stevens, “the use of electric lighting, resulting in lighted nights, may produce circadian disruption, which causes changes in the hormones including melatonin, known as the hormone of darkness because it is secreted in the dark”.

Melatonin is well known as a powerful antioxidant and antioxidants thought to fight off cancer cells. It was also noted that melatonin could also reduce the production of powerful women hormone estrogen. That means that lack of night sleep could reduce the level of melatonin and increase the level of estrogen. Increased levels of estrogen could trigger growth of breast cancer cells, especially if cancer cells are hormone-sensitive.

“Melatonin needs darkness, if its dark melatonin rises. More light at night, less sleep, and less melatonin increases the risk of breast cancer,” said Dr. Richard G. Stevens.

Blind women have 50 percent less breast cancer than sighted women. They live in darkness 24 hours a day and sleep more hours than the average sighted American, thereby producing higher levels of melatonin and cortisol.

Cortisol is a circadian hormone produced by the adrenal gland that is released in response to stress. Cortisol helps to regulate the immune system and releases cells that fight off cancer cells. Cortisol levels rise after hours of sleep.

“There is evidence that women who do night time shift work are in increased risk of getting breast cancer, and the World Health Organization has classified shift work as a probable cause and risk factor for cancer,” said Dr. David Spiegel.

Cortisol, like melatonin, lowers the production of estrogen and high levels of estrogen could increase the risk of breast cancer. Lack of night sleep can cause breast cancer, altering the balance of these two hormones that influence cancer cells.

Sleep and breast cancer

It is strongly recommended to sleep regularly and well to insure better mood, health, well working immune system and stronger mental capacity. It is well known that regular, positive sleeping habits can help fight the development and spread of major illnesses, including cancer. Good sleep could even improve chances of cancer remission, which is a great blessing after an unwelcome diagnosis.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of getting needed sleep every night, especially as it is now clear that sleep patterns can impact cancer growth and development. It is clear that sleep problems can contribute to a higher breast cancer risk. At the same time, women with breast cancer should pay special attention to effective sleep regimes – it can help fighting cancer. It is very important to know – better you sleep, the stronger your immune system and the more balanced your body chemistry. Better hormonal balance (normal cortisol and melanin) can increase the ability to fight off developing cancer cells, especially in the case of breast and prostate cancer.

In spite of complicated emotional problems in women suffering from breast cancer, it is essential to maintain the best sleeping habits possible.

Healthy daily habits include the following:

  • Morning wake up time should be the same every day regardless of the time you went to bed and regardless of weekday.
  • Keep your bed for personal relaxation – only for sleep or sexual activities.
  • Keep fit – exercise regularly but never 2-3 hours before your normal bedtime.
  • Avoid long working hours and extra-work; avoid very difficult job (mentally and physically) which is stressful for your body.
  • Prevent and avoid stressful situations as much as possible.
  • Keep your bedroom as quite as possible (far from street traffic, from TV noise, from noisy places).
  • Light in your bedroom should be calm and your bedroom should be dark during sleeping hours. Avoid bright light design in the bedroom.
  • Bedroom should not be hot – try to keep cool temperature during whole night.
  • Generally speaking, the nighttime environment should be absolutely comfortable with cool temperature, full quietness and absence of light.
  • Avoid long afternoon naps (especially after main meal), but short (1-1.5 hours) nap before 3 p.m. could be helpful in some cases.
  • Daily food should be scheduled, balanced, healthy and pleasant.
  • Sleep in comfortable loose (not synthetic!) night cloths or naked.
  • Keep your normal ideal weight and avoid overweight and/or obesity.

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