Those 8 hours a night are even more important than you think.
Who would think that it is possible to get breast cancer as a result of not getting enough sleep? After all, many of us have a sleepless night once in a while.
Well, scientific research has been revealing the idea that insomnia can, in fact, increase your risk of breast cancer. I felt it was important to write about this because oftentimes doctors spend a lot of their time talking to patients about the importance of sleep as well as what they can do to sleep better and how to make their sleeping environments more inviting. They also talk about what you can do during the day to help you get a good night's rest.
I know that you know that it is not just about taking a pill to put you to sleep. After all, these medications can become addictive, and you may build up a tolerance to them (meaning your need for them will continue to grow and increase) the longer you use them. At some point, you may finally feel that they do not work like they used to and you may ask for a different type of medication. Certain sleep medications are supposed to be used as a temporary means to help you get the rest you need while supporting you with the building of a new sleep routine that you can maintain after the medication runs out. It is usually given for a 30-day period or it is prescribed for use only when absolutely needed, not on a daily basis.
So let's begin with what insomnia means. Insomnia can be described as having difficulty getting to sleep or, for that matter, difficulty staying asleep. Some sleep research states that a lot happens during your sleep time including help with keeping your immune system built up to protect against diseases and cancers. This includes one of your body's most powerful cancer fighters, TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor), which helps your immune system build up while you sleep. So in other words, if you do not get the rest needed, these essential cells that help to protect you will not be produced as much as may be needed by your body. If you continue to have chronic insomnia, meaning if you are not able to get enough quality sleep for a prolonged period of time, this could, in fact, increase your risk of developing breast cancer. It can weaken the body's cancer-fighting mechanism, which can also lead to some disturbance of your hormone balance. What you may or may not know is that certain breast cancers are hormonally-driven, meaning the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone (our female hormones) in the body can be the cause of certain cancer occurrences.
Chronic insomnia can also increase anxiety, which can lead to stressing your immune system and health even further. It can also decrease your appetite, which can stress your body and not encourage you to eat the foods that provide the appropriate nutrients that are needed to protect you against major diseases and cancers. Insomnia can even increase your risk of suicide and the feeling of hopelessness, which in fact can put a major strain on your immune system as well as hamper any treatment of breast cancer.
You can look at this as a very vicious cycle: Insomnia can cause increased anxiety about getting breast cancer, which would make it very hard to sleep. >>> Being unable to sleep will cause you to become very tired and fatigued. >>> The fatigue increases your risk of depression and anxiety. >>> The depression and anxiety can lead you back to where you started, increasing your anxiety even more as a result of insomnia. All of this can impact your quality of life as well as decrease your immune system that normally would help protect you from breaking down your defenses.
I would like to share with you some of my ideas about things you can do to help you or those you know who are having insomnia problems or sleep problems to get into better sleep regime, along with some information from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Things To Do:
- Do your best to keep to a regular sleep schedule, meaning go to bed at the same time every night if possible.
- Exercise, but be sure not to workout too close to your bedtime. This means do not exercise 2-3 hours prior to going to bed.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine as well as alcohol. These are stimulants. Although alcohol may make you feel sleepy, you do not get the deep sleep you need when you drink it.
- Avoid taking certain medications right before bedtime unless your doctor has told you to do so. Certain blood pressure and asthma medications as well as certain over-the-counter medications for colds, coughs and allergies may keep you awake and make it harder for you to go to sleep.
- Do not take naps after 3 pm. Do your best to keep them to less than an hour.
- Be sure to do some relaxing activities prior to going to bed such as reading, meditating, listening to soft music, etc.
- Perhaps take a nice hot bath before going to bed and/or drink some chamomile tea (as long as you are not allergic to it or on medications that would interact with it; be sure to ask your doctor for more information).
- Create a good sleeping environment such as no blue light, no TV, no laptops, and no iPad or iPhone. Keep the room temperature cool and make the room as dark as you can. Bedrooms should only be used for two types of activities: sleep and sex.
- Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime.
- Don't lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. Get up and do some sort of activity before trying to go to sleep again.
- Seek medical help. Explain to your doctor what seems to be the problem. For example, are you snoring? If so, she/he may have to do some blood work or she/he may order a sleep study to look for sleep apnea or sleepwalking.
Be aware that there are many OTC (over-the-counter) herbs, supplements, teas and drugs that may interfere with the prescription medications you are taking. Be sure to ask your doctor if they are safe for you to take before you take them. Sometimes we may think taking more is better for us when, in fact, taking less is usually better. Please do not believe everything you read or hear on an infomercial. Research, research, research and ask questions about taking any medications, supplements, herbs or teas. This even includes your own prescription medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist, or look it up on a valid website. Be your own best advocate for your care.
Finally, I would like to remind you of how sleep allows your body to replenish itself as well as your immune system. Sleep plays a very crucial role in your health as well as your well being mentally, spiritually, and physically. It helps to provide essential nourishment for not only your mind but for your body as well. Sleep enables you to protect yourself and your body from breast cancer, one of the most deadly and sometimes hard to find cancers. You must fight and help yourself to eliminate at least one cause of cancer that you can control which will enable you to empower your own preventative alternative treatment. You can begin to fight back by doing your best to eliminate each and every cause of cancer by making lifestyle changes, exercising and leveraging nutritional sources.
May we learn from cancer survivors and those we have lost about the importance of sleep so we can gain ground with knowledge and partner in our healthcare so we can regain strength, courage and empowerment.
With much gratitude to all of you! And here's to a good night’s sleep!
This article was originally published at Dr. Christina Charbonneau. Reprinted with permission from the author.