You don’t need to read medical journals to understand the value of sleep. Just spend a single night tossing and turning. Chances are the day after will be deeply unpleasant. You’ll be cranky, unfocused, even a bit depressed. And for some reason craving carbs.
A string of sleepless nights will do real damage to your health, as does trying to get by on five or six hours of sleep when your body requires seven or eight. Study after study has demonstrated how insufficient sleep ups your risk for chronic health problems, including depression, diabetes, kidney disease, and stroke. You even have a better chance of getting injured if you’re not getting enough ZZZZZs. Now researchers have discovered a surprising link between unhealthy sleep habits and one of the deadliest cancers for men. Here’s what you should know.
The Truth About Sleep
Although we may deny it, most of us know intuitively that sleep is vital. Yet many of us try to push through, choosing deadlines and even binge-watching TV shows over slumber. Fitness trackers record every calorie and step but eating a healthy diet and exercising on insufficient sleep is like sitting on a three-legged stool when one has been removed. You topple over, right? Sleep is no different. In the 2020s, fitness apps have finally started tracking sleep the way they’ve been tracking miles and heart beats.
Ironically, tech is part of the problem. Blue-light emitting desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones interfere with melatonin production. It also stimulates adrenocortical hormone production which can give us a short burst of energy –– not exactly ideal when your alarm is set for six and you’re still awake at midnight. Popping a melatonin supplement while watching Squid Game on your tablet definitely defeats the purpose!
From a diet perspective, not getting enough sleep destabilizes a pair of appetite-regulating hormones which means you’ll likely crave sugary, carb-dense foods. That’s why obesity is linked to insomnia. From a fitness perspective, your recovery time from exercising is faster when you enjoy a good night’s sleep. Plus, sleep inconsistency has been linked to chronic inflammation which elevates your risk for cancer.
Circadian rhythms and prostate cancer
In the United States, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men. This despite having a 5-year relative survival rate of 98% –– the highest of any cancer. Unfortunately, while early detection drives most of the survival statistics, the high number of deaths is driven by how challenging treatment can be with late-stage prostate cancer.
Cancer occurs because of changes to genes responsible for controlling how our cells grow and divide. These changes can lead to abnormal masses of tissue called tumors. For prostate cancer, oncologists have long focused their treatment on suppressing the male hormone androgen and/or the androgen receptor. That’s because prostate tumors need androgens to grow. Suppressing production of this hormone has proven beneficial. Unfortunately, as the disease progresses, androgen suppression becomes less effective.
Recently researchers focused on the circadian factor CRY-1 which increases in men with late-stage prostate cancer. The more the cancer progressed, the higher levels of CRY-1. With high levels of CRY-1, androgen suppressing therapies become ineffective. Moving forward, researchers are seeing if targeting and blocking CRY-1 will help retard the growth of cancer cells.
Their research adds to data suggesting that the time of day when cancer treatment takes place affects its outcome. Further, cancer patients often struggle with insomnia which can make treatment less effective. The circadian system keeps all of us on a 24-hour sleep/wake schedule although different chronotypes determine whether we are night owls or morning doves. Although we often think of circadian functions as just about shut eye, around ten percent of our cells have a circadian cycle. That means not getting enough sleep can negatively affect pretty much every system in your body. And when it comes to prostate cancer, a big driver seems to be unhealthy sleep cycles whether from jet lag, graveyard shifts, or staying up late watching TV–which means research being done into prostate cancer therapies holds important lessons for everyone.
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- The circadian cryptochrome, CRY1, is a pro-tumorigenic factor that rhythmically modulates DNA repair | Nature Communications
- Best Sleep Trackers of 2022
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- Squid Game | Official Trailer | Netflix
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- Frontiers | Sleep Inconsistency and Markers of Inflammation | Neurology
- Cancer statistics, 2019 – Siegel – 2019 – CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians – Wiley Online Library
- Definition of tumor – NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms
- An unexpected, and novel, target for prostate cancer: Our biological clock
- Genetics of the human circadian clock and sleep homeostat | Neuropsychopharmacology
- Frontiers | New Insights Into the Circadian Rhythm and Its Related Diseases | Physiology
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.