Sleep Problems Linked to Certain Forms of Cancer in Men and Women

Image courtesy of photostock /

Image courtesy of photostock /

If the lack of energy, productivity, and overall health isn’t bad enough, the millions of Americans who struggle with getting good sleep now have a new problem to add to worry about – increased risk of cancer.


Researchers have discovered links between lack of sleep and certain kinds of cancer, including prostate, colon, breast cancer, and more.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 50 and 70 million Americans experience chronic sleeping problems. Two of the most undesirable side effects of not getting enough z’s are overall reduced quality of life and a higher risk for death.

Prostate cancer a concern for tired men.

The chance of developing prostate cancer is twice as likely for men who experience frequent trouble sleeping compared to those who do not, according to a study published in the Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal.

In the study, over 2,100 older men were observed. Among these men, 8.7 percent and 5.7 percent claimed they have “severe” or “very severe” sleeping problems. At the start of the study, none of the men had prostate cancer, however, 6.4 percent got it within five years. The ones who claimed they had the most trouble were much more likely to develop the disease.

Lara Sigurdardottir, Ph.D., the lead researcher in the study, suggested, “If our results are confirmed in future studies, sleep may become a potential target for intervention to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.”

In addition to prostate cancer, lack of sleep in men has been linked to other forms, too. Sigurdardottir states that, “Most observational studies to date on circadian disruption and cancer have investigated the associations between shift work and cancer risk. Among men, there are indications for increased risk or some cancers among night shift workers, such as prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hoddgkin’s lymphoma.”

Woman face cancer risks, too.

Men aren’t the only ones who need to worry about getting some good shut eye every night. Lack of sleep has also been linked to the recurrence of breast cancer in women.

According to a recent study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 412 women who were diagnosed with pre-menopausal breast cancer were surveyed about the amount of sleep they get, on average, each night.

Those who got six hours of sleep or less each night were at a much greater risk or cancer recurrence than those who slept well.

What is the linking factor between sleep and cancer?

Although it is still medically unsure why sleep is linked to cancer, it may have something to do with melatonin production.

In an interview with Science Daily, Li Li, M.D., a family physician and Associate Professor of Family Medicine, suggested that “less sleep means less production of melatonin, a natural hormone that has been linked to DNA repair.”

In certain studies with rats and mice, melatonin has been shown to prevent and slow down the growth of cancerous cells.

If you or someone you know is having trouble sleeping, read our article Restless Nights: 5 Easy, Practical Ways to Improve Your Sleep.