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Beat Breast Cancer—Sleep On It

Jun. 24, 2014|617 views
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Sleep is so important for health. Who among us hasn't felt tired, stressed, or overworked at some point? Many of us are getting too little sleep, and it may be taking a bigger toll than we realize. Everything from alertness and mood, to good decision making depends on getting a good night's sleep. And evidence is mounting that poor sleep quality is linked to immune system function.

For instance, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, women with advanced breast cancer are more likely to survive their disease if their sleep quality is good than if it's bad. Experts speculate that sleep plays a crucial role in immune system function. It might also affect the body's hormonal stress responses.

Spending eight hours in bed each night isn't enough. You have to spend that much time actually sleeping to get the full, restorative benefits of sleep. In a recent study, some women spent eight hours in bed. But they only slept six-and-a-half hours. The bottom line was sobering: women who had better "sleep efficiency" — meaning that they fell asleep and stayed asleep for eight hours — were significantly more likely to survive an advanced breast cancer diagnosis than women who slept poorly. Even after adjusting for other factors, such as age, type of treatment, or hormone receptor status, women who slept more soundly were more likely to be alive six years after diagnosis.

Experts recommend that you can improve your own sleep quality by leaving electronics out of the bedroom at night. Even small amounts of bluish light from smart phones, tablet computers, and televisions can interfere with the production of melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that triggers the onset of sleep. It has some important antioxidant functions, too, and may play an important role in repairing damage to your body's cells while you sleep. It's only released in the absolute absence of light, though. So sleep in a completely dark room whenever possible. It also helps if your bedroom is cool at night. Avoid caffeine for up to six hours before bedtime, and stay away from alcohol right before bed, too. Although some people use alcohol to help promote relaxation and facilitate sleep, it can actually interfere with sleep quality.

What are some things you do to get your full 8 hours? Who knows someone who beat out breast cancer? How did they do it?

Palesh O, Aldridge-Gerry A, Zeitzer JM, Koopman C, Neri E, Giese-Davis J, Jo B, Kraemer H, Nouriani B, Spiegel D. Actigraphy-measured sleep disruption as a predictor of survival among women with advanced breast cancer. SLEEP 2014;37(5):837-842.

Tags:  cancer risks, stress, health tips