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Can Improving Sleep Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer?

July 5, 2022

We have all struggled to get a good night’s sleep at some point in our lives. In fact, a recent survey found that fifty million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” We know lack of sleep can cause a myriad of health problems, but it may be surprising to note that it can also increase your risk of certain diseases and cancers, including breast cancer.

To help keep your breasts healthy for a lifetime, getting quality is sleep is a necessity, and ensuring you have high melatonin levels is perhaps the most important step. Melatonin is widely known for its regulation of sleep-wake cycles, but more importantly, it is also a powerful cytotoxic hormone with many healing properties.

The Role of Melatonin in Overall Health
Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a significant role in immune function and the regulation of inflammatory mechanisms; however, its most important function is regulating the body’s “sleep cycle,” also known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is simply a fancy term for your own internal clock, which runs on a 24-hour schedule. This internal clock plays an important role in when you fall asleep and wake up, so regulating it is critical for dealing with sleep disorders. When it’s dark your body produces more melatonin, but when it’s light, the production of melatonin is reduced. Therefore, people who are visually impaired or those who work night hours can have difficulty maintaining normal levels of melatonin and may be at higher risk of disease processes.

Lack of Sleep and Breast Cancer
Because of its obvious connection to sleep, melatonin is vital for breast health. The disruption of circadian rhythms may increase the risk of breast cancer due to the lower melatonin production. In fact, in 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified night shift work as a “probable human carcinogen.” Lack of sleep also has a direct effect on breast cancer risk, again due to low melatonin levels. One study conducted between 2005 and 2008 compared 1,200 women who had breast cancer with 1,300 who did not. The researchers found that women who work night shifts had a 30% higher incidence of breast cancer.

Melatonin as a Cancer Inhibitor
Dozens of studies have confirmed that maintaining adequate levels of melatonin can directly inhibit breast cancer development and growth. Melatonin is considered a cytotoxic hormone, which means it can be deadly for pathogens, including cancer cells, while being beneficial and essential for healthy cells. And there’s more—melatonin is a breast cancer tumor suppressor as well. In fact, pioneer cancer researcher Dr. David E. Blask and his team have found that during sleep, the melatonin levels in the blood (and while melatonin is being produced) can slow breast cancer growth by 70%.

How to Increase Melatonin Levels
There are simple lifestyle changes you can make right now to improve your chances for a good night’s sleep. Below are six simple steps you can begin today to sleep better and keep your melatonin levels up.

1 Cut Down on Blue Light and EMF Exposure
The most important thing you can do to get a better night’s sleep and support melatonin production is to cut down on blue light and EMF exposure. Devices such as computers, televisions, tablets, and cellphones all emit blue light as well as undetectable—yet dangerously high—EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies). Both blue light and EMFs have been shown to suppress melatonin production. A good strategy is to take frequent breaks while working on a computer or scrolling on your phone. In addition, make it a habit to turn off all devices and sources of Wi-Fi at least one hour before bedtime. Use soft light bulbs for reading, conversing, and getting ready for bed. Or better yet, investigate blue light blocking glasses to wear when the sun goes down or at least a few hours before bed. Lastly, sleep in a dark room. Invest in room-darkening curtains and block or remove anything from your bedroom that produces light, such as a digital alarm clock.

2 Aromatherapy
Studies have found that aromatherapy and essential oils help with sleep and certain essential oils, such as lavender, vetiver, bergamot, and sandalwood, are known to have a calming effect. The olfactory nerve receptors located in the mucosa of your nasal cavity are responsible for relaying sensory data to the brain, which is especially beneficial for sleep. Simply put, when you smell an essential oil during aromatherapy your olfactory receptors send signals to your brain, helping prepare your body for a restful sleep.

Before bed, simply inhale deeply straight from the bottle or use a diffuser, which releases a mist of essential oils into the room while you sleep. You can also put a drop of essential oil in your hand, rub them together, and breathe in deeply, then rub your hands over the pillow and on the bottoms of your feet. A word of caution, however—all essential oils are not created equal. There are many on the market that are simply just fragrances, synthetically created and causing more harm than good when used. To ensure you are receiving the therapeutic benefits of an essential oil, be sure to only use a certified pure, tested-grade brand.

3 Lower Stress
We all know stress can keep us up at night—no studies need to be cited to know how that works! To help reduce stress, incorporate practices into your life that can gently and gradually reduce overall stress. This may include journaling, meditation, prayer, or time in nature. You will notice increased calm throughout your day, which will help when you’re ready to lie down at night. Furthermore, adding these practices can help you remain calm, no matter what comes your way.

4 Eat Healthy
When looking at diet, zero in on substances that may affect sleep. In addition to processed sugar, which it is vital to limit or avoid, caffeine is an ingredient to pay attention to. Everyone has a different tolerance level for caffeine. That morning cup of coffee is a “necessity” for some people, so just be sure it does not affect your sleep patterns. If you need a caffeine “fix” during the day, consider superfoods that contain lesser amounts of caffeine in addition to healing phytonutrients. For example, matcha green tea is lower in caffeine and contains an amazing property—ECGC—that can target breast cancer stem cells. Additionally, there are certain foods that contain melatonin naturally, such as tart cherries, goji berries, pistachios, mushrooms, and eggs.

5 Exercise
Studies indicate that regular exercise can help you sleep better and may also directly increase melatonin levels. According to the Journal of Biological Rhythms, “exercise may have both rapid and delayed effects on human melatonin secretion. Exercise may acutely (i.e., within minutes) alter melatonin levels and result in a shift of the onset of nocturnal melatonin 12 to 24 hours later.” In other words, putting a daily exercise schedule into place can get your heart pumping, stretch your muscles and joints, and will help you sleep better too!

6 Supplementation
Finally, melatonin supplementation can be extremely helpful for those who have low melatonin levels or are struggling with sleep disorders. Before beginning supplementation, be sure to connect with your natural health provider to get to your melatonin levels checked.

In addition to making sure you are getting a good night’s sleep, routine breast health checkups are vital. Breast thermography uses infrared, thermal imaging to assess and monitor breast health naturally and safely without the use of X-rays and radiation. Thermography is an invaluable health assessment tool, providing an insight of your current health status—including breast health.

April Beaman, RDH, CTT, is a medical thermographer certified by the Professional Academy of Clinical Thermology and a professional member of Breast Thermography International. Beaman has worked in the wellness industry for over 17 years and provides thermography screenings and wellness support for both men and women of all ages. She is the owner of CT Thermography located in Farmington, with satellite offices in Glastonbury, CT, and Hadley MA. Connect at 860.415.1150 or CTThermography.com.