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Our modern never-take-a-break world certainly allows us to get more done during the course of a day but at what price? So many times we find it hard to get to sleep once our work day is over and that lack of sleep can have unhealthy effects on our overall health. It’s true our body’s natural rhythms can adapt to whatever lifestyle we introduce but this isn’t done without consequence.

(photo courtesy flickr.com)

Getting your body’s clock on a regular schedule could play an important role in reducing your risk of breast cancer because your circadian rhythms affect hormone levels and that affects your body’s other functions including the growth and suppression of tumors. Quality sleep not only protects your health it also helps you face the daily challenges and stresses of life. For workers who are on the night shift, bad bedtime habits or chronic stress disrupts your body clock, lowers your natural defenses and weakens your immune system.

A study recently undertaken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggests that shift workers have a significantly higher rate of cancer. However, a more extensive study, undertaken by Swedish researchers concludes that except for an increase in thyroid cancers in men, there is no correlation between night shift hours and cancer. While these studies offer conflicting results, they only looked at sleep patterns. Dr. Margaret Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health explained, “Increased breast cancer rates could be related to the fact that night shift workers in general drink more alcohol, or that flight attendants (who work alternating shifts and seem to have a higher risk of breast cancer) are also exposed to higher amounts of cosmic radiation (another risk factor) than the general population.” Because lifestyle and environmental factors have to be taken into consideration along with sleep patterns, it has been difficult to design and carry out a study that would provide definitive answers about shift work and cancer risk.

No one can deny the importance of sleep and  research studies that have been done to show  how much is needed to lower your risk of breast cancer. Dr. Lewin wrote, “The answer to the question about how much sleep you need to prevent breast cancer remains controversial.” A Finnish study found that women who consistently slept six hours or less every night had a slightly higher rate of breast cancer than those who slept seven to eight hours; and women who consistently slept nine hours or more had the lowest risk. However, a study done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that womens’ death rates in general increase in those sleeping more than seven hours a night. The reason for that could be a combination of factors including: time spent sleeping, and quality of sleep, which can vary with each person. Medical and psychological conditions can affect sleep quality, as can environment and lifestyle.

One important reason to try and get a good night’s sleep is because our bodies produces melatonin when you are in darkness – too much light means less melatonin and less healthy sleep. Melatonin suppresses estrogen, a hormone that fuels 80% of all breast cancers. While you’re sleeping there is less estrogen circulating and the growth of breast cancer cells slows down as well. Your body makes its own supply of melatonin, but you have to create the right setting for sleep and train your body clock for a regular sleep cycle.

 If you’ve gotten out of the habit of getting a good night’s sleep you might need to take steps to create optimal conditions for a full night sleep. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make certain your bedroom is dark. If it isn’t dark enough, consider a sleep mask and make certain your curtains block outside light.
  • Develop a bedtime ritual
  • Keep your bedroom cool
  • If noises keep you awake, use earplugs or use a white noise machine.
  • Do not sleep with your television on at night.
  • Consider keeping your pets out of your bedroom as they could interfere with your sleep
  • If the stress of your coming day is keeping you awake, consider writing a to-do list for the next day as that may help you calm some of the stress
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime
  • Undertake an exercise routine but make certain you do it several hours before bedtime

A good night’s sleep always makes the next day more tolerable. Even though the facts may be inconclusive as to whether lack of sleep contributes to breast cancer, the production of your body’s melatonin is necessary for good health.

For  information on sleep disorders contact http://www.valleysleepcenter.com or call Lauri Leadley at (480) 830-3900.

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