If you have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, you're not alone. Many people know how frustrating these problems can be. But sleep problems aren’t just annoying; they could be unhealthy.
Men who reported having sleep problems had twice the risks of prostate cancers as did sound sleepers, according to a recent study.
Disrupted sleep also increased the risks of being diagnosed with more advanced prostate cancers.
“The association linking an increase in cancer risk with night shift work, short sleep duration, disruption in circadian rhythm and decreased melatonin production is becoming more robust all the time,” Brian D. Lawenda, MD, clinical director of Radiation Oncology at 21st Century Oncology in Las Vegas, told dailyRx News.
"In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated night shift work as a 'probable carcinogen,’" said Dr. Lawenda, who is founder of www.IntegrativeOncology-Essentials.com
For this study, Lara G. Sigurdardóttir, MD, at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, led a team of researchers that followed 2,100 men participating in another study for five years.
None of the study members had been previously diagnosed with prostate cancer.
When they enrolled in the study, the men were asked four questions about problem sleep: whether they took medicine to sleep; if they had trouble falling asleep; if they would wake up and have trouble going back to sleep in the middle of the night; and if they awoke early in the morning without being able to resume sleep.
Severe sleep problems were reported by 8.7 percent of the men, and 5.7 percent characterized their sleep problems as “very severe.”
During the five-year study period, 6.4 percent of the men were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
When comparing men with sleep troubles to those who had no trouble sleeping, the researchers found the following:
- The risk of prostate cancer was closely aligned with severe sleep problems.
- Those who had trouble falling asleep had a 1.6-fold increased cancer risk.
- Men who reported having trouble staying asleep had a 2.1-fold increased risk.
- Very severe sleep problems were associated with a three-fold increased risk for advanced prostate cancer.
The results remained the same when researchers accounted for men with enlarged prostates who had to get up frequently during the night to urinate.
The researchers said more research into this topic is needed, but concluded, “These data lend support to the hypothesis that sleep disruption may affect prostate carcinogenesis.”
“Although studies such as these do not definitively give us the proof linking sleep problems with cancer risk, they are certainly compelling,” said Dr. Lawenda who is an integrative oncologist.
“At this time, I think it is important to consider this a highly plausible risk and as such begin screening our patients for sleep pathology and make appropriate referrals when needed.”
Findings from this study were published May 7 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
The research was funded by the Harvard Catalyst Award, the National Center for Research Resources, the US National Institute on Aging, the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, the Icelandic Parliament, the Icelandic Cancer Society and the Icelandic Heart Association.
No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.