How to sleep off cancer

Getting a good night’s sleep may be just as important for cancer treatment as other forms of traditional therapy. Recent evidence from the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that female cancer patients who maintain a normal sleep/wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm, build better host defenses against the disease (Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2003, vol. 17, no. 5). Researchers believe that the body’s production of melatonin, an antioxidant created in the brain during sleep, counteracts free radical compounds and limits the ovaries’ production of estrogen, which can cause cancerous cell division. In addition, disrupted sleep patterns interfere with normal cortisol cycles. The hormone cortisol helps regulate immune-system activity, including those cells that fight off cancer.

—Sarah Toland