Does cancer really spread while you sleep? New study demands a closer look
(NaturalHealth365) A recent paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature points to some “surprising” findings about the relationship between sleep, cancer, and hormones. But, be careful as you interpret the results, because this recent paper in Nature does not make a clear distinction between individuals that sleep poorly or not.
To be clear: These findings do not negate the importance of a good night’s sleep. There is no doubt that sleeping well helps with detoxification and regeneration of your body. So, if you struggle to fall or stay asleep, it’s still worthwhile to utilize sleep-boosting tips to improve your nighttime rest.
“When the affected person is asleep, the tumour awakens:” Researchers discover “surprising” link between sleep and spread of breast cancer
Last June, a team of researchers based out of a university in Zurich published the results of their research on the impact of breast cancer and sleep. Using animal and human models, the researchers discovered that cancerous tumors release more cancerous cells into the circulation when individuals are asleep. And compared to cells that leave the tumors during the day, these nighttime circulating cells appear to divide more quickly.
The implication of these findings is that of the cancers that end up metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body), most of this spreading appears to happen while individuals are sleeping.
Quoted in an article by Science Daily, lead author Zoi Diamantopoulou says that their research “shows that the escape of circulating cancer cells from the original tumour is controlled by hormones such as melatonin, which determine our rhythms of day and night.” In other words, the researchers hypothesize that cancer cells are impacted by our body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and that the hormonal changes associated with this “clock” may actually contribute to whether and how tumor cells grow and spread in the body.
Editor’s note: This is where the study lacks clarity. In other words, many integrative healthcare providers already warn their patients that maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is important to reduce the risk of cancer. Melatonin levels are to be relatively higher at night (to help us sleep well) and cortisol levels should be relatively lower. Unfortunately, most people suffering with sleep issues experience the opposite effect and that’s what will increase your risk of cancer.
Another finding from the study was that when tumor or blood samples are taken from a person may actually influence the ability of oncologists to provide an accurate diagnosis. The authors say this lays important groundwork for future research and may point to a future change in the way doctors perform and record biopsies.
But, this idea of ‘finding a better way to diagnosis cancer’ ignores the fact that performing a biopsy can actually increase the risk of cancer cell growth. Most people remain uninformed about this reality.
This study about sleep paints a false picture about your cancer risk
The importance of getting a good night’s sleep has had somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, and today we’ve seen our cultural milieu shift from “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” to endless conversations about sleep hygiene tips and tricks to help us all get our recommended 7 to 9 hours of nightly Zzz’s.
And while you might wonder if you should really prioritize sleep even if you or a loved one has cancer – given what we know about how cancer cells may spread at night. The truth is, all humans truly require sufficient quantity and quality of sleep in order to move toward optimal wellness. In other words, focus on improving the quality of your sleep will go a long way to improving your immune function and reducing the risk of cancer.
Of course, people diagnosed with cancer often struggle with sleep for a variety of reasons, notes the Sleep Foundation. These reasons include pain from treatment or from a cancerous tumor directly, treatment-induced gastrointestinal problems, breathing problems, medication side effects, and the understandable stress, anxiety, and depression that can accompany a cancer diagnosis.
More importantly, many researchers have spent plenty of time investigating whether poor sleep quality or quantity (e.g., chronic sleep deprivation due to things like insomnia and nighttime shift work) can actually raise a person’s cancer risk.
Bottom line: there’s little question among the scientific and medical communities about how sleep has a net positive impact on human health overall. Sleep can strengthen your immune system, support your mood and mental health, and enhance your metabolic and cardiovascular health, among other things.
A 2021 position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine doesn’t leave anything in doubt when it says: “Sleep is a biological necessity, and insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders are detrimental for health, well-being, and public safety.”
So, whether you’re in normal health or currently fighting cancer or some other chronic disease, continue to use whatever sleep hygiene habits and tricks help you get more quality rest at night – whether that’s sleep-supporting supplements and herbs, tools like blue-light blocking technology, avoiding late-night snacks, making your room cool and dark, or any number of other sleep hygiene techniques that have been shown to be beneficial.
As a final note: To help you sleep better, try grounding yourself (outside) – at night – for 30 – 45 minutes before going to sleep or sit inside a far infrared sauna for 5 to 10 minutes to help shift your body from sympathetic to a parasympathetic state, which will calm your nervous system.
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