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Less than six hours of sleep a night raises colon cancer risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Colon cancer

Less than six hours of sleep a night is now found to raise the chances of colon cancer almost 50 percent, adding to the list of health risks that result from sleep deprivation.

Researchers from University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine believe new study findings are the first to show a link between colon cancer and lack of sleep in a study of 1,240 patients admitted to the hospital for colonoscopy.

Li Li, MD, PhD, physician in the Department of Family Medicine at UH Case Medical Center said, "To our knowledge, this is the first study to report a significant association of sleep duration and colorectal adenomas. A short amount of sleep can now be viewed as a new risk factor for the development of the development of colon cancer."

Adenoma is a lesion that can lead to colorectal cancer if left untreated. For the current study, patients admitted for colonoscopy were surveyed about quality of sleep, using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Compared to those reported seven or more hours of sleep each night, study participants who reported difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and shorter sleep duration were found to be more likely to have colorectal adenomas.

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among the 1,240 patients studied, 338 were diagnosed with colorectal adenomas that was associated with sleeping less than six hours a night, even after adjusting for obesity, family history and smoking that are thought to also be contributing factors for colon cancer.

Dr. Li explains lack of sleep and the associated increase in risk of colon cancer is the same as having a first degree relative with the disease and also comparable to the risks of developing the disease from high intake of red meat.

"Short sleep duration is a public health hazard leading not only to obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease, but also, as we now have shown in this study, colon adenomas," he said. "Effective intervention to increase duration of sleep and improve quality of sleep could be an under-appreciated avenue for prevention of colorectal cancer."

The researchers aren't sure why lack of sleep increases the chances of colon cancer, but believe it could be related to less production of the sleep hormone melatonin. In animal models, the hormone has been linked to DNA repair. The new findings shows sleeping less than six hours a night may be a risk factor for colon cancer that was the same for men and women studied.

Cancer: DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25507
"Short duration of sleep increases risk of colorectal adenoma"
Cheryl L. Thompson PhD, Emma K. Larkin PhD, Sanjay Patel MD, Nathan A. Berger MD, Susan Redline MD, Li Li MD, PhD

This page is updated on May 22, 2013.