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Lower prostate cancer risk with these 5 tips for a good night's sleep

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Sleep problems increase risk for prostate cancer

Men who have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep may be at an increased risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study that found a link between disturbed sleep and an increased incidence of prostate cancer and the severity of it. The study was published Tuesday in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Researchers involved with the study point out that the link between sleep and prostate cancer does not mean sleep problems causes cancer – just that the two appear associated. They do, however, indicate that one mechanism may involve the brain chemical melatonin. Indeed, prior research shows that melatonin production at night can help suppress cellular processes related to cancer growth, whereas disturbed sleep inhibits melatonin production.

A possible association between sleep and cancer has been explored by researchers since the 1990s, and in 2001, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported female nurses working night shifts showed evidence of having a moderately increased risk of breast cancer. Since then, other studies have demonstrated a link between poor sleep and cancer, just as some studies have suggested there is no link.

For this new study, led by Lara Sigurdardottir from the Centre of Public Health Sciences at the University of Iceland, 2,102 male participants were observed for sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling and staying asleep, as well as falling back asleep if they woke up during the night.

Out of all those men, 755 without any sleep disturbances were put into a control group. Five years later, during a follow-up, 135 of the men developed prostate cancer – and 26 of them had an aggressive form of the disease.

Researchers also reported finding that “men with sleep disruption were at increased risk of prostate cancer, particularly advanced prostate cancer, when compared with men who did not report any sleep problems.”

“Let’s imagine that in a given time period of five years, each participant contributed the same amount of time to the study and the same number of participants were in each group. If 6 men out of 100 developed prostate cancer in the group without sleep problems, we would expect 12 out of 100, or six more cases, in the sleep problems group,” explained Sigurdardottir to NBC News.

This increased risk is significant considering that 15 out of 100 men age 60 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer over the next 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Regardless of any debate over the cause-and-effect link between sleep and cancer, Sigurdardottir believes that “sleep disruption is a plausible cause factor.”

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While Sigurdardottir and the research team tried to control this study for a variety of known health risks (e.g. smoking, BMI, recent medical issues, etc.), they could not control all possible factors, such as any extraordinary stress any of the men may have been undergoing during the time they were participating in the study.

If you are a man experiencing sleep disturbances, Sigurdardottir does not recommend the use of sleep aids, including natural ones like melatonin, as well as prescription sleep medications like Ambien because they are only temporary solutions that fail to treat the underlying cause of the sleep problem.

So what can you do to get a good night’s sleep without sleep aids or medications?

Approximately one in three adults report some degree of insomnia at any one time. If you do have trouble sleeping, several changes in lifestyle can help you regain a satisfactory sleep pattern. Experiment with these helpful strategies offered here by Kansas State University Counseling Services.

Five Basic Strategies for a Good Night’s Sleep:

1. Never oversleep
• Never oversleep because of a poor night's sleep. This is the most crucial rule. Get up at about the same time every day, especially on the morning after you've lost sleep. Sleeping late for just a couple of days can reset your body clock to a different cycle -- you'll be getting sleepy later and waking up later.

2. Set your body clock
• Light helps restart your body clock to its active daytime phase. So when you get up, go outside and get some sunlight. Or if that's difficult, turn on all the lights in your room.
• Then walk around for a few minutes. The calves of your legs act as pumps and get blood circulating, carrying more oxygen to your brain to help get you going.

3. Exercise
• Keep physically active during the day. This is especially important the day after a bad night's sleep. When you sleep less, you should be more active during the day. Being less active is one of the worst things an insomniac can do.
• Strenuous exercise (brisk walking, swimming, jogging, squash, etc.) in late afternoon seems to promote more restful sleep. Also, insomniacs tend to be too inactive a couple of hours before bed. Do some gentle exercise. A stretching routine has helped many people.

4. Don't nap
• Do not take any naps the day after you've lost sleep. When you feel sleepy, get up and do something. Walk, make the bed, or do your errands.
• While studying, get up regularly (every 30 minutes, or more often if necessary) to walk around your room. Do a gentle stretch. That will increase the flow of oxygen to your brain and help you to be more alert.

5. Set a bedtime schedule using these two steps:
• First, try to go to bed at about the same time every night. Be regular. Most people get hungry at 7 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. because they've eaten at those times for years. Going to bed at about the same time every night can make sleep as regular as hunger.

SOURCE: Sleep Disruption Among Older Men and Risk of Prostate Cancer, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev May 2013 22:872-879; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-1227-T; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Kansas State University Counseling Services, How to Get a Good Night's Sleep