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Pillow Fight! Sleep can be your way to put cancer risks to bed

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Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
  Ted Escobedo   7 min read 8 years ago

Pillow Fight! Sleep can be your way to put cancer risks to bed

You often hear of the many benefits of a good night’s sleep. It is a time when the body repairs itself and recuperates from the wear and tear of the day. But take heed, studies show that sleep may be even more important than we thought, particularly when one is talking about the disease, cancer. A Stanford research project has found definite links between the lack of sleep and cancer progression.

There are two hormones, Melatonin and Cortisol that are important in the sleep process.

Melatonin is produced in the brain during sleep. It acts as a compound called an anti-oxidant that “mops” up free-radicals that damage the cell’s DNA . Melatonin also slows the ovaries’ production of estrogen which is important for women who have cancer because estrogen “spurs on” the division of cancerous cells. Therefore it is important for women with ovarian and breast tumors to produce Melatonin. A study on shift workers who worked through the night and therefore produced less Melatonin showed that they produced more cancer-activating estrogen.

The second hormone, Cortisol, reaches peak levels at dawn then declines throughout the day. Cortisol is important in that it helps to regulate the immune system activity which includes the regulation of immune cells called natural-killer cells that are important in helping the body to fight cancer.

It is believed that a lack of sleep increases the production of stress hormones and drives up blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.

In another study, researchers found that those who slept less than seven hours a night had a 47 percent higher risk of cancer than those who got more sleep.The benefits of a good night’s sleep are being touted regularly in news reports however little focus is placed on the outcomes of not getting enough sleep. Many experts believe that a lack of sleep is associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Still, sleep for some does not come easy. It is common for one to find a multitude of commercials for sleep aids and prescription drugs that are designed to solve the all too common sleep disorders plaguing our populace. Our society is becoming more of an all-day presence than it once was. Once upon a time, all television went off the air as well as radio stations at about midnight. We now have 24-hour access to news, reruns, movies and talk shows. The internet is another distraction with people connecting and sharing with one another at all hours. Our world is getting smaller and busier than it once was. All of this noise adds to the problems faced by so many when it comes to sleep. Some sleep disorders are very serious and again, lead to unfavorable health conditions.

Insomnia includes any combination of difficulty with falling asleep, staying asleep, intermittent wakefulness and early-morning awakening. Episodes may come and go (be transient), last as long as 2 to 3 weeks (be short-term), or be long-lasting (chronic).

Common factors associated with insomnia include:

• Physical illness

• Depression

• Anxiety or stress

• Poor sleeping environment such as excessive noise or light

• Caffeine

• Alcohol or other drugs

• Use of certain medications

• Heavy smoking

• Physical discomfort

• Daytime napping

• Psychophysiological insomnia: a condition in which stress caused by the insomnia makes it even harder to fall asleep

• Delayed sleep phase syndrome: your internal clock is constantly out of sync with the "accepted" day / night phases; for example, patients feel best if they can sleep from 4AM to noon

• Hypnotic-dependent sleep disorder: insomnia that occurs when you stop or become tolerant to certain types of sleep medications

• Stimulant-dependent sleep disorder: insomnia that occurs when you stop or become dependent on certain types of stimulants

Counterproductive sleep habits:

• Early bedtimes

• Excessive time spent awake in bed

Problems with staying awake:

Disorders of excessive sleepiness are called hypersomnias. These include:

• Idiopathic hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness that occurs without an identifiable cause)

• Narcolepsy

• Obstructive and central sleep apnea

• Periodic limb movement disorder

• Restless leg syndrome

Problems sticking to a regular sleep schedule

Problems may also occur when you do not maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule. This occurs when traveling between times zones and with shift workers on rotating schedules, particularly nighttime workers.

Sleep disruption disorders include:

• Irregular sleep-wake syndrome

• Jet lag syndrome

• Natural short sleeper (the person sleeps less hours than normal but has no ill effects)

• Paradoxical insomnia (the person actually sleeps a different amount than they think they do)

• Shift work sleep disorder. There are so many causes for the loss of sleep and for some the lack of it is a real -pardon the pun – nightmare. It is because of this all too common problem that centers like the Del Sol Sleep Disorders Center and Dr. Cortes with his staff become a societal necessity. If you are suffering from sleep deprivation, there are things that you can do.

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