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Cancer Prevention, Sleep and Obesity: The Link

Struggling to drop those pounds? Your diet or activity level may not be to blame

Studies show getting adequate sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity, which has been linked to a number of chronic health issues, and an increased risk of developing several types of cancers, including colorectal, breast, kidney and pancreatic.
“How long, how well, how deep we sleep, what time we sleep and what happens during sleep all affect our metabolism,” Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist, told M.D. Anderson’s Focused on Health.
We all know the easy equation for weight loss: Burn more calories than you consume. But as any of us who has been on a diet knows that’s sounds easier than it really is. Studies show sleep—how much of it and how good it is—may be a part of the reason why.
Our internal clocks, called circadian rhythms, determine our sleep patterns, heart rate and blood pressure.
“If our internal timing—in other words, our circadian rhythm—doesn’t match our external timing, then it can have a negative effect on our metabolisms,” Harrison said.
According to one study, when we build up a sleep debt over a few days, our hormone levels are disrupted. In some cases, sleep-deprived study participants processed sugar in their bloodstream at levels equal to that of diabetics.
Other studies show when we don’t get enough sleep, we have trouble exercising and staying active enough to lose weight and reduce our cancer risk.
“A lack of sleep and obesity are big problems for people today,” Harrison said. “It’s no surprise that one may be affecting the other.”
Here are the facts: More than one-third of adults in this country is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A person is considered obese if he or she has a body mass index of 30 or higher. Research from the National Sleep Foundation shows one in three adults does not get enough sleep. The average adult needs about eight hours of sleep each night. Being overweight, the leading cause of sleep apnea, makes the problem worse.
For better sleep, follow these tips:

  •     Set a consistent sleep schedule. Stick with it, even on weekends.
  •     Get regular exercise.
  •     Maintain a healthy diet.
  •     Limit caffeine, especially after 3 p.m. (or noon, if you can swing it), and avoid alcohol and nicotine.

If you still feel your sleep schedule is messing up your ability to lose weight, which, in turn, may be affecting your cancer prevention abilities, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist.


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