- Prostate cancer is common among American men.
- Causes of prostate cancer are unclear, but researchers have identified several risk factors in men.
- Sleep deprivation may increase men’s risk for prostate cancer.
- A healthy sleep routine may help to boost your health and protect against prostate cancer.
Recent research suggests that men with sleep problems may be at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer. Unlike age or family history, sleep habits are a modifiable risk factor that men can alter to reduce their risk.
An estimated one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Men cannot control certain risk factors for prostate cancer, such as their age or having a family history of prostate cancer. However, researchers have recently linked prostate cancer risk to a variety of lifestyle factors.
Several studies have explored the connection between sleep habits and prostate cancer. Recent findings indicate that men who suffer from poor sleep quality may be at higher risk for developing prostate cancer.
Sleep deprivation occurs when adults get less than seven hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can be short term or long term. Additional research is needed to determine the underlying mechanisms of sleep deprivation’s impact on prostate health.
The Importance of Adequate Sleep
The quality of your sleep can either help or hinder your health.
Good sleep habits and quality sleep can help you stay happier and healthier overall. For example, quality sleep is said to:
- Bolster your immune system
- Reduce your risk for chronic illness
- Lower your stress
- Help you to maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce your risk for accidental injuries
- Improve your energy and attention levels
Long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk for both physical and mental health conditions. It can also make certain conditions worse. These include:
- Heart disease
- Mental health conditions involving psychosis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vascular disease
Why Does Sleep Deprivation Contribute to Chronic Illness?
Sleep is restorative for your body. Your body needs sleep to establish new connections in your brain, support chemical balance, and heal itself. Consistently missing out on sleep disrupts your body’s work to keep you healthy.
Long-term sleep deprivation can affect your:
- Brain. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts your brain function. Specifically, it can cause problems with attention, comprehension, and memory.
- Heart and circulatory systems. Chronic sleep deprivation can damage your heart and circulatory health over time.
- Immune system. Your immune system doesn’t function normally when you’re sleep deprived.
- Mental health. Sleep deprivation places you at higher risk for anxiety and depression. It’s also harder to manage emotions, stress, and conflict without adequate sleep.
- Metabolic and endocrine systems. Lack of sleep can disrupt your body’s natural metabolic processes, such as glucose metabolism or hormone regulation.
- Nervous system. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of neurological issues, including increased sensitivity to pain.
How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?
How much sleep you need largely depends on your age and health status. Most experts agree that all adults, regardless of age and health status, should get at least seven hours of sleep each night. However, some adults may need more sleep to feel their best.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Prostate
Research consistently supports the theory that poor sleep is damaging to your health. Sleep deprivation can disrupt or damage your body’s endocrine, metabolic, and immune pathways. Each of these functions are essential to prostate health.
Sleep Deprivation and Hormone Production
Most people’s hormones will naturally fluctuate due to aging, behavior, and a variety of lifestyle factors. Your body works to regulate your hormones and metabolism, and helps you to adjust to these fluctuations. Your sleep habits and circadian rhythm can support your body in this work or disrupt it.
Researchers have identified a complex relationship between sleep habits and the body’s ability to regulate metabolism and hormones. For example, sleep deprivation can impede your body’s ability to use insulin, regulate your appetite, or produce hormones. This is especially concerning for prostate health, as research suggests a link between metabolic imbalance and increased risk for prostate cancer.
Some research suggests that sleep deprivation affects young men’s ability to produce testosterone. Testosterone is an important hormone for men’s health. However, there’s conflicting evidence about how testosterone levels contribute to prostate cancer risk or progression.
Sleep Deprivation, Immune Function, and Inflammation
Experts agree that good sleep habits can support immune function and help protect against chronic inflammation. Sleep deprivation has the opposite effect.
Research demonstrates detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on immune function, including the body’s defenses against inflammation. Sleep deprivation’s negative impact on immune function can lead to chronic inflammation, which can place you at a higher risk for developing new conditions. It can also exacerbate existing chronic conditions.
Chronic inflammation is recognized as a contributor to several forms of cancer, including a potential contributor to the development and progression of prostate cancer.
What the Research Says About Sleep and Prostate Cancer Risk
The evidence base for the role of sleep deprivation in men’s health and prostate health has grown in the past decade. More recently, researchers have explored exactly what this means for prostate cancer risk.
Sleep Problems May Increase Risk for Prostate Cancer
Some research studies suggest that sleep deprivation places men at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer.
A recent Taiwanese study followed men recently diagnosed with sleep disorders to compare incidence of prostate cancer against that of the general population. The study showed that men with sleep disorders had a higher incidence of prostate cancer than men without sleep disorders. The incidence of prostate cancer in men with sleep disorders remained higher than average, even after researchers adjusted for age and other health conditions.
A prospective cohort study recruited more than 2,000 men to determine if sleep disturbance was associated with prostate cancer risk. The study found that participants with sleep disruptions were more likely to develop prostate cancer when compared to participants who didn’t report sleep problems. The researchers noted that these participants were also at a higher risk for advanced prostate cancer.
Previous research has also examined the link between melatonin levels, sleep disruption, and prostate cancer risk. The study showed that men who slept longer and with limited disruptions had higher levels of melatonin in their urine. These participants were also 75 percent less likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than participants with lower levels of melatonin.
Prostate Cancer Can Negatively Affect Sleep
Not only does sleep appear to affect your risk for developing prostate cancer, but the opposite is also true: Having prostate cancer can affect the quality of your sleep. Research demonstrates that men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer report greater sleep disturbances than men who aren’t. Sleep disturbances are consistently reported, regardless of the type of method of treatment used.
Researchers theorize that various side effects from treatment, such as nighttime urination or hot flashes, contribute to sleep disturbances. However, the exact mechanisms behind this link remain unclear.
Some researchers have speculated that low melatonin levels may cause an increased risk for genetic mutations, oxidative damage, and a weakened immune system. However, additional research is needed to determine the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the link between sleep deprivation and prostate cancer risk.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Research consistently demonstrates the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on men’s health and quality of life. Recent research supports the theory that sleep deprivation may contribute to an increased risk for prostate cancer, including advanced prostate cancer. Getting into a consistent sleep routine may help men lower their risk for serious health conditions, including prostate cancer.
Strategies for Better Sleep
It can take time to establish a healthy sleep routine. The following steps can take your sleep routine to the next level:
- Be consistent. The easiest way to stick to a sleep routine is to be consistent. This includes sticking to the same bedtime each night as well as keeping your sleep environment and nighttime activities consistent.
- Power down electronics. Sleep experts recommend avoiding electronics use at least an hour before bed.
- Review your medications. Some medications may interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Review your medications with your provider to determine the best time to take your medications for a consistent sleep schedule.
- Set the scene. Sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Time your meals. Avoid having large meals close to bedtime.
- Time your fluid intake. Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids close to your bedtime.
- Watch your caffeine intake. Some people respond more strongly to caffeine than others. Sleep experts recommend reducing your total caffeine intake, or at least limiting how much you consume after lunch each day.
Current research supports a link between sleep deprivation and prostate cancer. However, additional research is needed to determine the extent of this link and the underlying causes.
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Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).