A new study published research findings in the link between sleep duration and the recurrence of breast cancer. photo credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via photopin cc

Can Lack of Sleep Make You More Susceptible to Breast Cancer?


Most of us understand that not getting enough sleep causes a wide range of problems.  We may snap at our kids, argue with our spouse, forget to get a report to the boss, and burst into tears when he confronts us about it.  We may struggle to stay awake when we drive, fall asleep in front of the TV, and feel like we just don’t have the energy to do much of anything.  We understand these impacts because we have all experienced them after a night or two of not getting enough sleep.  If these were the only reasons we had to get the sleep we need, they would be enough.  Unfortunately, sleep scientists and researchers are finding ever more ways in which a lack of sleep can be very detrimental to our health.

A study published last year in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment highlights one of those ways.  Sleep science has previously shown that long term lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.  This study took that finding one step further and examined the relationship between sleep duration and the recurrence of breast cancer in a group of breast cancer patients.  The findings indicate that not getting enough sleep may also increase the risk of developing an aggressive form of breast cancer.

The study included 412 post-menopausal breast cancer patients.  Each participant was given the Oncotype DX test which is used to predict the likelihood that their cancer will recur, the lower the score, the less likely it is that the cancer will recur.  Each participant also completed a survey about their sleep habits over the past two years.  The research team then looked for connections between sleep duration and Oncotype DX score.

Across the participant pool, getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night and getting a higher score on the Oncotype DX test seemed to go hand in hand.  This means that those participants who reported sleeping less than 6 hours on average in the two years leading up to the study generally had higher scores than those who reported getting more than 6 hours of sleep each night.  This finding indicates that there may be a link between not getting enough sleep and an increased risk of cancer recurring.

For the general population, this finding means there may be a link between long term sleep deprivation and the development of more aggressive tumors.  More research will need to be conducted to further explore how sleep duration and the more aggressive forms of breast cancer are linked.  In the meantime, this study underlines how important it is for those already battling cancer to get the right amount of sleep and gives the rest of us another reason to practice good sleep hygiene and to make sleep a high priority for our long term health.


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