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Sleep and Breast Cancer Health

For those dealing with breast cancer, it is apparent that so much of our recovery and perhaps even our long-term outcomes depend on what is happening in the bedroom at night.
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As I enjoy another wonderful weekend, I found myself reflecting on how much an important part of any great weekend includes extra time for sleep. It seems that during the workweek, I never get enough sleep because I go to bed late and have to get up early. Therefore, when Friday night comes along, the most important thing to me is that there will be no alarm going off in the morning and I can sleep as long as I like. I know that I am fortunate in this respect because a lot of people have weekend obligations that require their getting up early. Others have become so trained over the years that they find themselves unable to sleep past the time that they normally arise during the week. But, such is not the case for me and hopefully not for you either as we learn more and more about the importance of sleep in our lives.

The greatest benefit for any breast cancer patient is that sleep allows your body to heal. No matter what your course of treatment might be, your body is being assaulted with surgeries, chemo, radiation and/or drugs and all have an effect on you. Therefore, sleep is so important to you as it not only restores balance at the end of the day but also it helps to heal you. But, what may have been enough sleep on a daily basis in the past might not be enough for you now. And depending upon the treatments, you may find that you are not able to sleep on the same regimented schedule that you had in the past. Your sleep may now be comprised of small naps or in longer daytime segments when you just pass out from sheer exhaustion. After all, it is pretty hard to find a comfortable position for sleeping after breast cancer surgeries.

Obviously, one of the priorities in establishing the care of a cancer patient thus becomes time to sleep, no matter how much time is needed to do so. Perhaps in the past, you were used to five or six hours a night but now you have a whole new set of circumstances. You might not be able to set aside specific times for sleep since there are so many factors that control it so be prepared to ask for whatever help you may need in order to accommodate your needs.

In addition, the more research that is being done with regard to sleep, the more we are learning about how else it affects us in ways that are not as obvious. According to current information, if you do not get enough sleep or enough good quality sleep, your metabolism will not work properly. As a result, your ability to lose weight is affected because of your nightly hormones becoming imbalanced and you will experience weight gain.

There is another phenomenon that affects us based upon our sleep habits. We need, on average, 7.5-8 hours of sleep a night. However, if you normally sleep about five hours a night and start to sleep seven hours a night, you will start to lose weight.

And now, there is another consideration for getting proper sleep. A new study has been conducted in rats with regard to sleep in conjunction with the use of Tamoxifen, a hormone replacement therapy prescribed for cancer treatment. The study shows that exposure to a dim light at night suppresses melatonin production that makes tumors resistant to the drug. Interestingly, in this case, it is not the sleep that determines melatonin levels but the darkness in your environment. So if you can't sleep but are in the dark, your melatonin will rise as normal. And, the study results have shown that the rats living in dim night light had tumors that were completely resistant to Tamoxifen while those living in dark conditions at night had tumors that got significantly smaller.

Of course, more studies will need to be done but we can already see that sleep and the conditions under which we sleep have definite benefits and influences on us and our health. For those dealing with breast cancer, it is apparent that so much of our recovery and perhaps even our long-term outcomes depend on what is happening in the bedroom at night. It certainly seems that major accomplishments can be made with some very minor adjustments so it is necessary to be mindful about your surroundings. And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns, you should discuss them with your medical providers.

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