By Christine Horner, M.D., Vol. 23, No. 3.
Everyone knows that sleep and rest are important, but what you may not know is that when you sleep has a profound effect on your health, especially that of your breast, prostate, and heart. Over 5,000 years ago, the traditional system of medicine known as Ayurveda, which is still practiced extensively in India and parts of Asia, stressed the importance of going to bed by 10 p.m. and getting up before 6 a.m. Recent research has confirmed that sleeping during this time period does indeed appear to be optimal for your health. Moreover, if you routinely violate this “natural law,” the consequences can be profound. Research shows that consistently staying up until midnight doubles the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2001 found that nurses who worked rotating night shifts had an up to 36 percent increase in breast cancer risk. The longer they worked the night shift, the higher their risk of breast cancer became. The reason is simple. It has to do with the daily normal fluctuations of several hormones, in particular melatonin. Melatonin is best known as our “sleep hormone”; however, it is also extremely powerful in protecting against and fighting breast cancer—but only if you go to bed at the proper time and make the room you are sleeping in as dark as possible by turning out all the lights and pulling the shades.
Scientists have discovered that when darkness falls, the pineal gland in our brain produces more melatonin. As this hormone rises, you start to feel sleepy. The moment you fall asleep, the level of melatonin goes much higher. But here’s the catch: Melatonin doesn’t rise very high unless you’ve gone to bed at the proper time and the room you are in is very dark. The darker it is, the higher your melatonin will rise. Any type of light, even a soft night light, can affect melatonin levels. Researchers think the strong association between light and melatonin production may be a major explanation as to why breast cancer is more common in industrialized regions where city lights burn all night and why blind women have a fifty percent lower incidence of breast cancer compared to women who can see. By following this simple bedtime advice, you will receive the profound health benefits of a spike in melatonin that naturally occurs between midnight and 1 a.m.
There are several major attributes of melatonin that explain why it so protective against breast cancer.
• Melatonin is a very potent antioxidant. Antioxidants destroy oxygen free radicals that can harm your cells and DNA, inflicting damage that can lead to cancer.
• Melatonin slows down the production of estrogen and prevents its overproduction. Estrogen stimulates breast cells, causing cell division to speed up. The faster the cells divide, the higher the risk of cancer.
• Melatonin depresses the effects of epidermal growth factor and the hormone prolactin, both of which increase cell division in the breast.
• Melatonin enhances the tumor-fighting power of vitamin D, making it twenty-one hundred times stronger.
For more information, author bio, and references see the full article in Vol. 23, No. 3, May/June 2014 (available in print or digital format) of Well Being Journal.