Perhaps nothing is scarier than receiving a diagnosis of cancer, even if it’s caught “early” and therefore “treatable.” Theories abound on ways to prevent cancer and even help heal the body during treatment, from changing one’s diet to managing stress and engaging in mind-body activities like meditation and deep breathing.
But what about paying attention to sleep? Have there been any connections made between sleep and cancer?
There’s no question that getting restful sleep is beneficial for both healthy people and those battling cancer, but now we have evidence that people who sleep less than six hours a night could be more likely to have dangerous polyps in their colon or rectum compared to better-rested patients. The study, which was published by the journal Cancer in October, reflects the first time anyone has ever found a link between sleep duration and risk of polyps, which are tied directly with the risk for colon cancer.
Polyps—the abnormal growths detected during a colonoscopy—can progress to become cancerous tumors, which is exactly what happens in about 10 percent of cases. The stats in particular:
Don’t panic: Even if this newly discovered link is causal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get colon cancer. Put simply, the findings don’t prove that lack of sleep causes these polyps to occur. The results simply indicate that people who don’t sleep much at night might have the same chance for developing colorectal cancer as other high-risk groups, such as people with a close relative who has been diagnosed with the disease or those with a diet high in red meat.
It’s also fair to remind you that this study is just one in a slew of studies to come. What looks like an effect of sleep might in fact reflect some other factor the researchers were unable to measure.
But I look forward to those studies. Once again, it wouldn’t surprise me to read that sleep and cancer indeed share a unique relationship. Nothing could be simpler than getting more quality Zs in the name of cancer prevention.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™