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Researchers Add Colon Cancer to List of Physical Problems Possible from Lack of Sleep

Inadequate sleep previously associated with higher risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and death

Feb. 8, 2011 - A new study finds individuals who averaged less than six hours of sleep at night had an almost 50 percent increase in the risk of colorectal adenomas - a precursor to cancer tumors - compared with those sleeping at least seven hours per night. Untreated adenomas polyps can become malignant.

An inadequate amount of sleep has previously been associated with higher risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and death. Now colon cancer can be added to the list.

 

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"To our knowledge, this is the first study to report a significant association of sleep duration and colorectal adenomas," said Li Li, MD, PhD, the study's principal investigator, family medicine physician in the Department of Family Medicine at UH Case Medical Center and Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

"A short amount of sleep can now be viewed as a new risk factor for the development of the development of colon cancer."

In the study, patients were surveyed by phone prior to coming into the hospital for scheduled colonoscopies at UH Case Medical Center. They were asked demographic information as well as questions from the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which obtains information about the patient's overall sleep quality during the past month. The PSQI asks for such information as how frequently one has trouble sleeping and how much sleep one has had per night.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute through Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Senior Citizens and Sleep Problems

Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults (7 to 9 hours nightly), according to Mayo Clinic sleep specialist Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D.

Although, a study published in the February, 2010, issue of the journal SLEEP, reported older adults sleep about 20 minutes less than middle-aged adults, who sleep 23 minutes less than young adults.

“As you get older, however, your sleeping patterns may change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly and awaken more frequently during the night than do younger adults. This may create a need for or tendency toward daytime napping,” Dr. Morgenthaler writes in a Mayo Clinic Q&A.

“If your sleep is frequently interrupted or cut short, you're not getting quality sleep — and the quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity,” he adds.

Dr. Morgenthaler points out that lack of sleep can affect your immune system.

“Studies show that people who don't get a good night's sleep or who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick,” he says.

“During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. These substances increase in the presence of an infection, inflammation and stress. Increased cytokines are necessary in fighting infection and regulating deeper sleep. In addition, other infection-fighting cells are reduced during periods of sleep deprivation. So, your body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases.

“How much sleep do you need to bolster your immune system? The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours a night. School-aged children and adolescents need nine or more hours of sleep a night.

“But be careful; more sleep is not always better. For adults, sleeping more than nine to 10 hours a night has been associated with weight gain, heart problems, stroke, sleep disorders, depression and other health concerns.”

>> More at the Mayo Clinic’s Website on Insomnia.

Of the 1,240 patients, 338 were diagnosed with colorectal adenomas at their colonoscopy. The patients with adenomas were found in general to have reported sleeping less than six hours compared to compared to those patients without adenomas (control) patients, and the association between amount of sleep and adenomas remained even when adjusted for family history, smoking, and waist-to-hip ratio (a measurement of obesity).

The researchers also found a slightly stronger association of sleep duration with adenomas with women compared to men, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Dr Li said the magnitude of the increase in risk due to less hours of sleep is comparable to the risk associated with having a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with colon cancer, as well as with high, red meat intake.

"Short sleep duration is a public health hazard leading not only to obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease, but also, as we now have shown in this study, colon adenomas," he said.

"Effective intervention to increase duration of sleep and improve quality of sleep could be an under-appreciated avenue for prevention of colorectal cancer."

Although why fewer hours of sleep may lead to colon cancer is unknown, Dr. Li said some of theories include that less sleep may mean less production of melatonin, a natural hormone that in animals has been linked to DNA repair, or that insulin resistance may underlie the link between sleep disturbance and cancer development.

The study by researchers from University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is published in the Feb. 15, 2011 issue of the journal Cancer.

Dr. Li and other researchers on the study are also associated with the UH Seidman Cancer Center, the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University, the Center for Clinical Investigation at Case Western Reserve, and the Department of Medicine at UH and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

  ● University Hospitals www.uhhospitals.org

  ● Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine http://casemed.case.edu

More links about sleep and senior citizens

Sleep Apnea Connection to Stroke and Death Explained by New Study

One in 10 senior citizens suffer with sleep apnea that is more common as people age

Jan. 6, 2009


Sleeping Less than 7.5 Hours Daily May Cause Heart Disease for Elderly with Hypertension

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Nov. 12, 2008


Elderly Women Increase Their Risk of Falling with Less Than Five Hours Sleep

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Study Indicates Older People Just Need Less Sleep than Young Adults

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July 25, 2008


Older Women Who Nap Less, Go Back to Sleep Easily Achieve Healthy Aging

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Mistake for Doctors to Neglect Insomnia Treatment in Older Patients

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Tips for Senior Citizens to Get a Good Nights Sleep Offered by Longevity Center

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Sleep Studies of Older People Find Behavioral Treatment Helps Insomnia; Women Endangered by Restless Legs

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