Sleep is something we all look forward to after a long day but in this fast-paced, hyper-wired world we live in, it’s what many of us aren’t getting enough of. We all know how sleep impacts our energy levels, mental state, hunger and immune system – and this becomes even more critical when you’re dealing with a chronic condition. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence on why shut-eye is so important for the prevention and management of cancer.

During deep sleep, our bodies produce melatonin. Melatonin is a natural substance that is secreted not only by our pineal glands (in the brain) but in other parts of the body including the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, and skin. The highest concentrations of melatonin are produced at night and in total darkness. It’s well established that melatonin can help with insomnia and sleep quality but research has shown that melatonin also impacts the body in other ways. 

  • Melatonin possesses antioxidant, immunomodulation and anticancer properties. According to this epidemiological research it was postulated that melatonin promotes cell death and anti-proliferative effects on oncological cells.

  • According to work conducted by David E. Blask, MD, PhD, a widely acclaimed expert in cancer biology, his research demonstrated that melatonin suppressed human breast cancer cell growth by as much as 70% and also demonstrated cytotoxic activity targeting cancer cells with no deleterious effect on healthy cells.

  • As part of Dr. Blask’s work on melatonin-mediated circadian regulation, when laboratory mice with human breast cancer cells were exposed to constant light, the breast tumor growth increased dramatically. These data also support the mechanisms of elevated breast cancer risk in night-shift workers and others that are increasingly exposed to light at night.

  • In addition, this study describes the risk associated and the potential mechanistic pathways by which sleep and circadian disruption may contribute to the cause of breast cancer.

  • We live in a digitally connected world and even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. This convenience comes with a price – the exposure of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) from mobile phones and electronic devices has also been shown to suppress the production of melatonin.

  • As you know, our environment is loaded with chemicals, many of which are “xenoestrogens” – chemicals that actually mimic estrogen in the body. The list of products that contain them is extensive – pesticides, plastics like BPA, food preservatives, hormones in meat, and parabens in skin products to name just a few. It is known that persistently high levels of estrogen promote the risk of breast cancer. What’s interesting is that proper levels of melatonin can protect us from estrogen dominance. Based on research conducted on postmenopausal women, appropriate levels of melatonin were statistically associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Also, several like this one have been conducted on the use of melatonin for reducing the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including weight loss, nerve pain, weakness and a condition called thrombocytopenia. Given the virtual absence of contraindications, melatonin has been shown to be a good adjuvant to conventional therapy. In addition, the antioxidant actions make melatonin a suitable treatment to reduce oxidative stress associated with chemotherapy.

  • Last but not least, as this paper demonstrates, melatonin can help protect against immune-aging. Age-associated deterioration in the immune system, which is referred to as immunosenescence, contributes to an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, autoimmunity, and cancer in the elderly.

Based on the evidence shared above, you can follow these simple tips to ensure proper melatonin levels:

  • If possible, avoid night time work as this has been shown to disrupt circadian rhythms and melatonin production.

  • Sleep in the dark (use black out curtains or an eye mask). Even a small light from clocks and other electronics can disrupt melatonin production so turn them off.

  • It’s best to leave all your mobile devices in another room to minimize any impact of EMFs.

  • Try melatonin supplements to support your sleep – you may want to start on a low dose (3mg) and gradually work up if needed. I personally take melatonin at night but at a low dose and only when I think it’s necessary. Click here for recommended melatonin products.

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