A Poor Night’s Sleep May Increase Your Risk of Disease

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A poor night’s sleep not only makes getting through the day difficult, it also may increase your risk of disease, especially if you suffer from chronic lack of sleep. Inadequate sleep has been associated with obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer.

Studies have shown that people who sleep less than six hours per night on a regular basis are much more likely to have a higher than average Body Mass Index, and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI. Sleep is now viewed as a potential risk factor for obesity along with lack of exercise and overeating. 

Studies in recent years have identified a relationship between lack of sleep and some of the top cancers in the United States: breastprostate and colorectal cancers. In addition, research suggests that people who have sleep apnea have an increased risk of developing any type of cancer. 

Scientists are still unraveling whether and how sleep and the development and progression of various kinds of cancer are linked, but there is some evidence indicating that there’s a connection between lung cancer and sleep related to two other conditions: disruption of circadian rhythm and obstructive sleep apnea.

The National Sleep Foundation defines circadian rhythm as “basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.”

Although we still have a lot to learn about how circadian rhythm works, recent studies into the effects of shift work on the body have indicated that working nights may well elevate your risk of certain types of cancer. Although much of this research has focused on breast cancer, there is some indication that disrupting your circadian rhythm could also be associated with a slightly greater risk of developing cancers of the digestive system and the lungs.

Across the country, at least one in 10 of us experiences some kind of sleep disturbance. Stress, illness, aging and drug treatment are the main culprits. Quality sleep, though, is essential to healing, proper immune function and mental health, making it important for adults to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Researchers continue to study what happens in the sleep-deprived body at a biological level to lead to cancer. They have found that lack of sleep increases inflammation and disrupts normal immune function. Both may promote cancer development. In addition, the hormone melatonin, which is produced during sleep, may have antioxidant properties that help prevent cellular damage.

Here are summaries of recent research linking lack of sleep to cancer:

Lung cancer: Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2018 are about 234,030 new cases of lung cancer (121,680 in men and 112,350 in women and about 154,050 deaths from lung cancer (83,550 in men and 70,500 in women). A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Barcelona has found that intermittent hypoxia, or an irregular lack of air experienced by people with sleep apnea, can increase tumor growth by promoting the release of circulating exosomes.

Prostate cancer: Affecting more men than any other cancer, an estimated 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer are expected in 2014. Last year, a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention found that men who suffer from insomnia may be at increased risk of prostate cancer.

  • Researchers surveyed of 2,102 men and followed the 1,347 men in the group who didn’t fall asleep easily and/or experienced disrupted sleep.
  • After about five years, 135 men developed prostate cancer, with 26 of them having an aggressive form of the disease.
  • Researchers identified a twofold risk of developing prostate cancer in men with sleep insomnia.

Colorectal cancer: It’s estimated that 136,830 men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014, making it the second most common cancer affecting both sexes after lung cancer. Inadequate sleep may lead to the development on colorectal cancer, according to a 2010 study published in Cancer.

  • Researchers studied the sleep quality of 1,240 people about to have a colonoscopy.
  • 338 study participants were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Those diagnosed were more likely to average less than six hours of sleep per night.
  • Researchers calculated a 50 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer for people sleeping less than six hours per night.

Breast cancer: An estimated 232,670 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. A 2012 study suggests that women may develop more aggressive breast cancer if they chronically lack sleep.

  • Researchers asked 101 recently diagnosed breast cancer patients about the average amount of sleep they got two years before diagnosis.
  • They found that the post-menopausal women who slept fewer hours had a higher likelihood of cancer recurrence.
  • The study was the first to suggest more aggressive breast cancers are associated with inadequate sleep.

How to sleep well – according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America:

Drifting to sleep may seem like a dream when you’re tossing and turning in bed. But there are several bedtime strategies and rules that may help improve your sleep at night. Make sure your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable, then give these tips a try:

  • Get up and go to bed the same time every day
  • Don’t take naps
  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before bed
  • Don’t exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime
  • Sleep only when sleepy
  • Develop sleep rituals, such as listening to relaxing music, reading something soothing for 15 minutes, having a cup of caffeine-free tea and doing relaxation exercises
  • Have a light snack before bed: Good options include yogurt, bananas, whole-wheat cereal with skim milk, half a peanut butter sandwich or cherry juice.
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel sleepy.


  1. Long-term Sleep Duration a Risk Factor for Breast Cancer: Evidence from a Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta Analysis. Biomed Res Int. 2017; 2017: 4845059. Published online 2017 Oct 10. doi: 10.1155/2017/4845059. 
  2. Sleep Duration and the Risk of Cancer: a Systematic Review and Meta Analysis Including Dose-Response Relationship. BMC Cancer. 2018; 18: 1149. Published online 2018 Nov 21. doi: 10.1186/s12885-018-5025-y
  3. Supper, Sleep, Circadian Rhythems, and Cancer Risk. www. FredHutch.org. July 19, 2018By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Andrea’s Courses available through FCEA:

An Introduction to Cancer Exercise

Cancer Exercise Specialist Pilates Mat 

The Breast Cancer Recovery BOSU(R) Specialist Advanced Qualification

You can learn more about The Cancer Exercise Training Institute atwww.thecancerspecialist.com


Andrea Leonard graduated from the University of MD in 1990 and went on to get certified as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist by The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She has been certified as a personal trainer by The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and as a Special Populations Expert by The Cooper Institute. She is also a continuing education provider for NSCA, NASM, ACE, and AFAA. Andrea is part of the Hedstrom Fitness/BOSU® Development team and the Chairperson for the Medical Fitness Network Advisory Board. She makes herself available as a volunteer mentor for other cancer patients through Immerman Angels.

Andrea is a 34-year year cancer survivor and has/had twenty one first-degree relatives diagnosed with cancer. In 2015 she lost her father, Morton, to complications of bladder and prostate cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome.

At the age of eighteen, Andrea was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a complete thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment. It was through her own personal struggles that Andrea decided to become a personal trainer. She wanted to be able to help others, like herself, who struggled with the same issues of weight gain and poor self-esteem following cancer surgery and treatment.

Andrea began training in 1992 and worked at the National Capital YMCA in Washington, D.C. She quickly worked her way up to Director of Personal Training and ran the department for several years. While working at the YMCA, Andrea started Leading Edge Fitness and later, The Cancer Exercise Training Institute. While training the “movers and shakers” on Capitol Hill, Andrea’s mom was diagnosed, for the second time, with breast cancer. She watched her mother struggle through the trauma of multiple surgeries, reconstruction, a frozen shoulder, and addiction to narcotics in order to cope with the pain associated with her surgeries. Inspired by her mother, Andrea, along with a medical advisory board from Washington D.C.’s premier medical centers, set out to write “Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors.” The goal was to help the millions of men and women, like her mother, to gain back their strength, range of motion, and self-esteem (among other things), following breast cancer surgery and treatment. The book was published by Harvard Common Press in 2000.

Realizing that she is limited to helping a certain number of clients per week, Andrea developed the Cancer Exercise Specialist™ and Breast Cancer Recovery BOSU® Specialist™ Advanced Qualifications for health and fitness professionals. Through these programs she has been able to pass on her wealth of knowledge, and enable health and fitness professionals around the world, to work safely and confidently with cancer patients.

Andrea has presented the Cancer Exercise Specialist Workshop across the U.S. and Canada and has been a guest speaker at Medical Fitness Tour, IDEA World, CPTN Personal Trainer Summit, IRHSA, TSI Summit, Medical Fitness Association Conference, Keiser Permanente Thriving with Cancer Conference, Winona State University – Survivors Unite, McHenry Community College, New York Institute of Technology, OHSU School of Nursing, Edwards Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital, Suburban/Johns’ Hopkins, Mennonite Cancer Foundation, South Georgia Medical Center, Cary Medical Center Lynchburg General Hospital, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Sibley Hospital, Memorial Hermann, Sandford Health System, Avera McKennan Prairie Cancer Center, Baptist Hospital East, Patricia Neal Rehab. Center, St. Mary’s, Baptist Health System, and Fort Bliss Army Installation.

Andrea has written 14 books on the subject of cancer and exercise and has contributed to PFP Magazine, NOU Magazine, US News and World Report, Club Solutions Magazine, Bethesda Today, Capital Gazette, NASM’s Training Edge Magazine, Lake Oswego Review, Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, The Tidings inHealthOhio Blog and News, Capital Style, The Examiner, The Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, 4Wholeness.com, SpecialFit, and has appeared in countless videos including the Heartflex Breast Cancer Recovery video and been a regular fitness expert on AMNW.

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