The sleep-cancer association

Breast tumours are the leading cause of death from cancer, both in Australia and globally. While there is strong evidence to show links to poor diet, lack of exercise, alcohol intake and environmental pollutants, these do not make up the entire percentage.

Research shows that sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep may make up for the remaining amount. While a good 8 hours sleep may seem like a luxury to some people, it is an absolute necessity for human health.

TiredWhy is sleep so important?

When asleep, our body is incredibly busy. It restores itself, repairing damaged areas and refuelling for the next day. The immune system relies on sleep in order to function properly. Sleep deprivation and its effects on immunity provide a strong link to dysregulation of cellular function seen in breast cancer. This leads to low grade, chronic inflammation, increased oxidative stress and DNA damage.

What are the risks of not getting enough sleep?

Sleeping 6 hours or less per night raises breast cancer risk by 62% compared to those who sleep 7 hours or more.[1] There are also other influences on sleep that also affect breast cancer risk. Disrupted sleep-wake cycles, like those that occur with shift work result in higher rates of breast cancer and chronic disease overall.

Melatonin – the sleep hormone

Researchers have had success using melatonin to treat breast tumours. It’s able to slow or halt tumour growth by preventing further spread of blood vessels that feed cancer cells. It has strong antioxidant capacity and helps to regulate the immune system. We will be covering the effects of Melatonin in next month’s newsletter – so stay tuned!



[1] Kakizaki al. British Journal of Cancer.2008 Sep 23.

Photo credit: LaVladina / Foter / CC BY