Is Breast Cancer Linked to Lack of Sleep?

Are you setting the stage for Breast Cancer by getting too little or poor quality sleep?

If not, you are not getting your nightly dose of melatonin. Breast Cancer is linked to the hormone melatonin which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Fluctuations in normal nighttime production of melatonin may be a predictor of whether or not we might develop breast cancer.

Melatonin is normally produced at night and makes us feel sleepy.  Women who work night shifts, frequently change time zones, have insomnia, sleep in a room that is not dark, or just don’t get a good eight hours of sleep are not getting much exposure to melatonin.

Research shows that melatonin can slow down breast cancer growth by as much as 70%.

 Melatonin supports anti-oxidant function in cells. Oxidative stress is a major contributor to cell  changes and DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

Getting enough sleep also allows your immune system to increase the production of Natural Killer cells which specialize in destroying both cancer cells and viral infections. Adequate sleep is a contributor to normal immune function and crucial to cancer control.

Five Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep:

  • Relax  and unwind in the hours before bedtime. Prepare yourself for sleep. Turn of the computer, tv. Slow down.  In the same way we put children to bed in a nightly ritual: Put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, get into bed, read a story, go to sleep.  In this same way we need personal rituals to wind us down after a busy day and switch our nervous systems into the relaxation mode.  You might want to do some gentle stretching, meditate, take a hot bath, enjoy a relaxing cup of caffeine free herbal tea.  Chamomile tea has been used traditionally as a relaxant.  Lavender oil has also been used traditionally in a relaxing bath or for scenting the pillow to promote relaxation.
  • Put yourself to bed earlier. We are keyed into the rhythm of nature and the cycles of dark and light.  We must sleep when it is dark and wake when it is light to have normal physiology, including normal production of melatonin.  When you start to feel sleepy, melatonin is being secreted getting you ready for sleep.  Heed the call.
  • Aim for eight hours of  good quality sleep. Most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. It is during deep sleep that our body resets, repatterns, restores and heals.  If you suffer from insomnia, high stress or anxiety, these issues must also be addressed.  Some cancer patients suffer from pain which can also disrupt sleep.  Others will suffer from hot flashes, waking in the night due to hormonal imbalances.  Addressing all of these concerns will set the stage for a good night’s sleep.
  • Sleep in a truly dark room. Even small amounts of light from LED’s from clocks and other electronic devices should be turned off or covered so that the room can be as completely dark as possible.  Darkness signals the brain to produce melatonin.
  • Check your melatonin levels. See your health care provider to measure your melatonin levels. If you are low, you may consider supplementing with 1-3 mg of melatonin at bedtime.  Although melatonin is available over the counter, you should always consult with your doctor before taking any supplement.


Changing one’s sleeping habits takes some time. It is a lifestyle change. With consistent and successive small changes over a few weeks you can retrain your body to fall asleep and stay asleep, waking refreshed and rested and giving your cells the opportunity to be exposed to melatonin, putting cancer cells to sleep as well.

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