Sleep is essential for your health and well-being and is reported to be of equal importance as diet and exercise. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a good night’s sleep improves immune function, regulates hormones which balance appetite and metabolism, repairs muscles and tissue, and provides energy to the brain and body.
Ideally, adults are recommended to sleep 7-9 hours per night, teens 8-10, and school children 9-12. Yet, one out of three Americans experience insomnia at some point in their lives and 30-40% of children receive less than adequate sleep. In the short term, loss of sleep affects judgment, mood, memory, and leads to an increased risk of accidents and injury. Long term chronic sleep deprivation disrupts normal immune function, increases inflammation and can lead to major health issues including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early mortality.
Recent studies have linked inadequate sleep to the three most common cancers: breast, prostate, and colorectal. A 2013 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention found that men who suffer from insomnia may be at increased risk for developing prostate cancer. According to a 2010 study published in Cancer, researchers found that people who slept less than 6 hours per night were 50 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer. A 2012 study of over 200,000 women suggests that women were chronically sleep deprived were more likely to develop an aggressive breast cancer (Thompson, C.L. & Li, L Breast Cancer Res Treat 2012).
Unfortunately, 30 to 75 percent of people undergoing treatment for cancer experience sleep issues (Curr Treat Options Neurol 2007). The good news is that sleep can be highly beneficial to the healing process during cancer treatment and recovery, and you can improve your sleep!
Here are 10 simple, easy strategies to try:
- Be consistent. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including days off.
- Create a good sleep environment. The bedroom should be dark, quiet and not too warm. Research suggests the ideal temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you have a good mattress and pillow.
- Get adequate light exposure. Poor sleep is linked to poor light exposure during the day, particularly for people who work in offices and the elderly in homes. Too much screen time, especially in the evening, can also adversely affect sleep.
- Prepare your body for sleep with a relaxing evening routine. Consider reading, soft music, a warm bath or essential oils. Avoid stimulating conversation, television, movies or social media before bed.
- Take care of your body. Eat meals at regular times, exercise (preferably in the morning) at least 3-5 hours before bedtime, and avoid alcohol, sedatives, and caffeine at least 4 hours before sleep.
- Try taking a yoga class. Yoga has been shown to improve sleep (Yoga for the Treatment of Insomnia, Oncology & Hematology review 2014).
- Walk for at least 60 minutes a week. Walking has been shown to improve sleep in both breast cancer (Cancer Nursing Research, 2001) and lung cancer (British Journal of Cancer, 2016).
- Get a massage. Therapeutic massage has been shown to improve sleep, as well as reduce pain and anxiety in cancer patients. (Freeman L 2009, Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-based Approach).
- Reduce your stress levels. Try practicing meditation or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for at least a few minutes every day. Resolve arguments before going to bed. Keep a pen and paper next to your bed so you can write down anything you need to remember to do the following day.
- Set the stage for your subconscious mind to be peaceful and happy. When you lie down in bed, take some long, slow belly breaths, following your breath as it moves in and out. Mentally list things you are grateful for. Try visualizing your dream day, job, relationship, vacation or life until you drift off to sleep.