You may be wondering: what is the relationship between sleep and cancer risk? Does lack of sleep contribute to an increased risk in cancer? Recent studies have established a link, but there are other points to consider as well when considering the relationship between sleep and cancer.
While recent studies have continued exploring the link between sleep deprivation and cancer risk, other studies have been examining how sleep might be used as a tool in cancer treatment, which can be an opportunity for cancer patients who are looking for a way to aid in their own recovery.
Can Lack of Sleep Increase Your Cancer Risk?
Recent studies have suggested that there is a link between lack of sleep and an increased risk of cancer. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can cause the cells in your body to behave abnormally, leading to the development of certain types of cancers. Changes to your circadian rhythm (like working irregular work shifts or not getting to bed at the same time every night) have been linked to the development of breast cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia, among others.
Additionally, persistent sleep apnea has been linked in recent studies to the development of head and neck cancers. Scientists believe that the consistent lack of oxygen in the body causes the body to produce more blood vessels that are then open to the potential for cancerous growths to form.
How Sleep Affects Cancer Recovery
Many cancer patients find that from the time of their diagnosis and through their recovery, they are often plagued by various types of sleeping issues. The most common of these issues is insomnia and other sleep disturbances that make it difficult for them to stay on a normal sleep routine. However, the benefits of sleeping regularly and getting restful sleep are well-documented: deep restful sleep stimulates the regeneration of healthy cells in the body and helps the body fight off illness.
Here are just a few of the ways that sleep can be disrupted in cancer patients:
- Cancer & Pain-Related Fatigue: Cancer-related sleep disorders contribute to what is called cancer-related fatigue, which is the effect of an accumulated sleep debt. This fatigue can persist even into stages of remission.
- Stress-Related Sleep Disorders: A cancer diagnosis can be a terrifying thing. Many patients find disruptions in their sleep due to the worrying nature of the diagnosis. Speaking with a therapist who specializes in helping cancer patients can help reduce the stress that causes disruptions in sleep.
- Treatment-Related Fatigue: Disruptions to your sleep cycle can happen due to side effects from chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting, night sweats, or shortness of breath. Mitigating the side-effects of chemotherapy can help patients stay asleep through the night.
- Excessive Daytime Sleeping: Many cancer patients report that the rigorous nature of their treatment often keeps them awake at night and sleeping through the day. By regulating their sleep routine, cancer patients found that they were able to reduce daytime sleepiness and stay asleep through the night.
Lack of sleep can make it harder for the body to fight cancer, meaning that it is an important part of the recovery process to get a good, restful sleep. Good sleep can promote cell regeneration and help the body fight the cells that are causing such damage.
Let Yourself Sleep So You Can Heal
If you are experiencing sleeping problems as you go through your cancer treatment, there are solutions for you that go beyond run-of-the-mill sleep aids. Here are a few tips for better sleep.
1. Work Out
Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help regulate your sleep patterns. The American Cancer Association recommends that a regular workout routine during the week for cancer survivors, which has the added benefit of helping your body get more restful sleep. Even something as simple as taking a regular walk can be beneficial.
2. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
While that extra cup of coffee may help you wake up in the morning, and a night-time cocktail may help you get to sleep, neither of these substances does much to help you regulate healthy, restful sleep. Both caffeine and alcohol can make it harder for you to reach the deeper stages of sleep that promote cell regeneration in your body, so avoiding those substances is a good idea.
3. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated keeps your body moving smoothly throughout the day but be sure not to drink too much before bed, or you may find yourself getting up in the middle of the night.
4. Reduce Stress
You may find that when you’re ready to get to bed, your mind starts racing with worries and fears of the next day. Finding ways to reduce your stress throughout the course of your treatment, like keeping a regular nighttime journal or speaking regularly with a therapist to work out your fears and stresses, can help you keep a clear mind when you’re ready to get to sleep.
Sleep Professionals Can Help You Sleep Better
If you find that you’re still having trouble sleeping, your oncology team may refer you to sleep professionals who can help you find lasting solutions to cancer-related sleep disorders. These solutions can range from cognitive behavioral therapy, light therapy, and anti-snoring products and other devices developed by professionals in the field of sleep medicine, like a CPAP machine.
If a CPAP machine is too restrictive for you, there are alternatives like an intraoral appliance. An intraoral appliance fits between the teeth like a mouth guard to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea.
A Good Night’s Sleep Reduces Your Risk and Helps You Heal
Studies continue to prove the connection between a restful night’s sleep and cancer. Making sure that you sleep regularly and fully reduces your risk of cancer, and it can improve your recovery if you’ve been diagnosed. There are many solutions to improving your sleep, including the use of an oral appliance to reduce your sleep apnea symptoms and help you fall and stay asleep.
For a custom-fit oral sleep appliance, you can rely on Advanced Sleep Solutions of Virginia to make the perfect one for you. Schedule an appointment online or call (703) 689-2480.