Does Sleeping Poorly Increase Cancer Risk?

One third of the American population does not get the recommended seven hours of sleep every day, potentially leading to many chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among several others.  Sleep disorders are on the rise in the U.S. since inadequate sleep was declared a public health epidemic a few years ago. 

While it may seem convenient to catch up on sleep during the weekend and binge watch shows at night during weekdays, it is an unhealthy habit that interferes with proper functioning the next day. Over a long period of time, sleep debt can accumulate and possibly lead to cancer, but the studies remain mixed and inconclusive. 

Clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, who has authored books exploring the subject of sleep deprivation, highlighted research on the much debated upon topic in his latest piece for Psychology Today.

One such study he mentioned from 2014 went into how sleep alters the body on a cellular level. The study found longer telomere length is associated with youth, while shorter telomere length with aging. This is because this particular structure at the tip of chromosomes plays a key role in multiplying and renewal of cells, which keeps the immunity in check.   

The lack of sleep increases death rate of the body's cells and damages the DNA, as per the study. Cancer and less sleep could be linked since errors in DNA replication is a sign of cancer, and sleep is one cause behind the error. 

Among the different cancer types, breast cancer showed a strong association to sleeping less than eight hours a day, according to another research paper. The study by Chinese researchers analyzed postmenopausal women and women with either none or less than three children in Asia. This research used information regarding 34,350 women in the age group of 40 to 79 years by mathematically calculating and analyzing their answers to a self-administered questionnaire.

During the follow-up period (1988 to 2009), 236 cases of breast cancer were observed. A significant link between sleep deprivation and breast cancer was found. In another Chinese study, colonoscopies were used as a screening method to spot early formation of colon cancer polyps in people who slept for short durations at night. 

On the contrary, a larger review of 65 articles with 1,550,524 people and 86,201 cancer cases showed that sleeping patterns had no effect on cancer whatsoever in the categorical meta-analysis, though there were certain exceptions. 

“Subgroup analysis revealed that short sleep duration was associated with cancer risk among Asians and long sleep duration significantly increased the risk of colorectal cancer. The dose-response meta-analysis showed no significant relationship between sleep duration and risk of cancer,” the results of the study read. However, on a side note, insomnia is a common side effect of chemotherapy during and after the procedure. 

sleep Lack of sleep can cause negative effects. Pixabay