There is a ton of evidence out there linking insufficient sleep to poor quality of life. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on mood, cognition, and brain function. It can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
A 2012 study found women who chronically lacked sleep developed more aggressive breast cancers. For the general public, these findings suggested there may be a link between long term sleep deprivation and the development of more aggressive tumors. To put it simply, not getting enough sleep puts women at a greater risk of the disease. The importance of sleep in breast cancer patients was further supported when researchers from Michigan State University revealed that the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, seems to stop the growth of breast cancer tumors. The report, published in the Genes & Cancer journal, found that treating cancer with melatonin significantly decreased the number and size of tumors compared with the control group of tumors that didn’t get melatonin.
Getting sufficient sleep is clearly important to live a healthy life, but a recent study says getting too much sleep may be tied to worse breast cancer survival odds. According to the British Journal of Cancer, women with breast cancer who sleep at least nine hours were 46% more likely to die from their tumors than patients who got just eight hours of sleep.
Although more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between sleep and mortality and survival rates, sleep-related complaints are extremely common in women with breast cancer. In fact, more than 60% of women with either metastatic or non-metastatic disease are diagnosed with insomnia. This prevalence exceeds both healthy adults and women with other cancers.
Breast cancer treatments are usually the culprit of these sleep disturbances. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can disrupt sleep-wake cycles and interfere with sleep. A one-year, longitudinal study showed that both subjective and objective measures of sleep got worse with each cycle of chemo in 80% of women with breast cancer. The distressing side effects of radiation and chemo such as nausea, depression, and pain can interfere with the quality of one’s sleep.
In order to improve sleep and quality of life in breast cancer patients, experts recommend behavioral interventions and alternative therapies. Yoga, light exercise, meditation, and structured cognitive behavioral therapy have all been effective in improving overall well-being in breast cancer survivors.