It’s practically become as American as apple pie and baseball these days. Everyone is burning the candle at both ends, skipping out on sleep and pounding coffee to keep their eyelids open.
We’ve become a nation filled with drowsy, overtired, cranky adults that, honestly, could really use a nap. But it turns out falling asleep at the dinner table may be the least of your worries because researchers say selling yourself short on shuteye could kill you… literally.
According to a new study published in the journal Genes and Cancer not getting adequate sleep may be linked to breast cancer, giving tumors the opportunity to form, grow and one day perhaps even eventually kill.1 Acting on a hunch Michigan State University scientists set out to learn if melatonin—commonly called the sleep hormone—plays a role in cancer development and growth.
Skipping sleep can raise your risk for
We already knew that selling yourself short in the sleep department might raise your risk for a number of illness and diseases, but now we know why sleep deprivation could cause breast cancer to thrive (and how we can lower that risk naturally).
You see, at night when you sleep your body produces melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycles. As we age melatonin production starts to drop off a bit naturally. But making a habit of not getting enough sleep can interrupt the production of this critical hormone as well. And it turns out that might be a real problem because melatonin might be a natural breast cancer fighter.
Melatonin shrank breast cancer cells
When researchers exposed breast cancer cells they grew in the lab to melatonin the number and size of the cells shrank significantly when compared to cells not exposed to the hormone. It looked like a real win for melatonin, the hormone appeared to stop the cancer in its tracks.
But they didn’t stop there. Next the researchers tried exposing cancer cells to melatonin along with two substances known to trigger the growth of breast cancer cells; estrogen and BPA. In both instances the melatonin continued to do its job reducing the number of cells, an indicator the researchers said that low levels of the hormone could be linked to a higher risk for breast cancer.
In other words, it’s possible that melatonin may be used as a natural breast cancer therapy to suppress tumor growth.
Using melatonin to lower YOUR breast cancer risk
So how do you put these findings to work for you?
Well the experts aren’t quite ready to recommend melatonin supplements yet. However, melatonin can be a very effective sleep aid (especially for folks 40 and over), which could help you start producing more of your own.
But do keep in mind it is a hormone, so you should take the smallest effective dose, take it for a short period of time and check with a doctor skilled in naturopathic medicine to find out what’s right for you before you start using it. If you are already have received a breast cancer diagnosis talk with your oncologist about taking melatonin.
Make more of your OWN melatonin
However getting more restful sleep to encourage your body to make more of its own natural hormone is a good idea for everyone.
Create a sleep oasis:
Transform your bedroom into the perfect sleep oasis…
- Get rid of the television and any other electronic devices that produce light or blink. Any of these distractions can keep you from getting or staying asleep, blocking your body from producing enough melatonin.
- Institute a ban on devices with backlit displays like cellphones and tablets in the bedroom. They knock off your circadian rhythms interrupting sleep and ultimately robbing your body of melatonin.
- If you have windows in your bedroom consider adding blackout curtains and keep the temperature comfortable for sleeping (a tad on the cool side is best according to experts.)
- Dim your lights in the last couple of hours before turning in. Think about turning off the computer and TV and reaching for a book instead. This can help trigger your body to start producing melatonin and will prepare you for a restful night’s sleep.
Consider a natural sleep aid:
If you’re still having trouble getting to sleep and sleeping soundly you might want to consider trying a natural sleep supplement.
Magnesium: Most Americans, anywhere from 68 to 80 percent, aren’t getting enough magnesium in our diets.2,3 Since low magnesium is linked to insomnia raising your levels could help you get some shut eye. Magnesium rich foods include almonds, spinach, cashews, black beans and avocados. Or try a 500 mg supplement.
L-tryptophan: This naturally occurring amino acid is the same one that triggers that sleepy feeling after chowing down on turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. Other tryptophan triggering foods are tuna, eggs, dates, bananas and figs. Consider taking a supplement to get enough of sleepiness inducer.
Chamomile: Sipping on a cup of warm chamomile teas before bedtime is very relaxing and can help prepare you for sleep. Rich in apigenein, this herb is known to naturally help calm anxiety and reduce depression.
For more tips on beating insomnia and getting a good night’s sleep click here.
1.”Melatonin decreases estrogen receptor binding to estrogen response elements sites on the OCT4 gene in human breast cancer stem cells,” Genes and Cancer, Volume 7: Issue 5-6, May 2016, p209-217
2. “Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals,” National Institutes of Health
3. “Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels,” J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):166-71.
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