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Sleep Hygiene Tips to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Dr. Margaret Lewin's Tips for Healthy Sleep

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Updated November 12, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Getting enough sleep is good for your body, and may help reduce your risk for developing breast cancer. Your body needs to sleep in a cool, dark room so that it can produce natural melatonin. Melatonin can suppress estrogen, a hormone that fuels 80% of all breast cancers. Better sleep means you have less circulating estrogens, and the growth of any breast cancer cells slows down. It's clear then, that a solid night's sleep is good for you. But suppose you have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep? Changing your bedtime routine and sleep hygiene can help.

Set The Stage For Better Sleep

Dr. Margaret Lewin, the Medical Director of Cinergy Health, has several tips to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Develop some type of bedtime ritual to prepare for sleep - try a warm bath or shower, or a glass of milk (preferably warm, to enhance the release of tryptophan - a natural sleep-inducing amino acid).
  • Darken your bedroom. If you use a night-light, make it small, dim, and out of your direct line of sight.
  • Keep your bedroom cool.
  • If noises keep you awake, use earplugs or white noise.
  • Although comforting, pets on your bed may interfere with sleep - try to sleep without pets.
  • If you're kept awake by the stress of the coming day and incomplete work, take the time (before your bedtime ritual) to write down a schedule for completing the next day's assignments - working around the time you need for a good night's sleep.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex - not for snacking, TV watching, or reading. If you must read yourself to sleep, make sure the light can be turned off without getting out of bed, and avoid exciting page-turners.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine after dinner. Many people find they must limit caffeine to breakfast only.
  • Alcohol and marijuana may help you fall asleep, but they are associated with frequent awakenings and actually interfere with a good night's sleep. Don't use alcohol and marijuana as sleep aids.

Dr. Lewin added, "We all know that a good night's sleep makes the next day - with its exhausting activities and stresses - much more tolerable. But whether we can attribute increased cancer risk to sleep patterns (and whether modifying those patterns can lower risk) is a question of significant import." Research on the relationship between sleep and cancer risk still needs to be done, but she says, "but it's clear that we all feel better when we sleep well."

Sources:

Personal correspondence with Margaret Lewin, MD, FACP, Medical Director, Cinergy Health, November 5, 2009.

Sleep duration and the risk of breast cancer: the Ohsaki Cohort Study. Kakizaki M, Kuriyama S, Sone T, Ohmori-Matsuda K, Hozawa A, Nakaya N, Fukudo S, Tsuji I. Br J Cancer. 2008 Nov 4;99(9):1502-5. Epub 2008 Sep 23.

Shift work, chronodisruption and cancer? Erren TC, Morfeld P, Stork J, Knauth P, von Mülmann MJ, Breitstadt R, Müller U, Emmerich M, Piekarski C. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2009 Jan;35(1):74-9.

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