Sleep as a Supernutrient

Sleeping well is profoundly healing; a vital “activity” in which we must engage to foster well-being. Virtually nothing else can change your outlook on life and your ability to heal as much as sleep does, and there’s a lot to be said about what goes on biologically during these hours, too. Anticancer living means prioritizing this highly productive healing time and addressing any obstacles or difficulties. Your body will thank you!

In addition to being linked with weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, poor sleep has been linked in many studies to increased cancer risk and poorer outcomes for cancer survivors. The most recent study on the topic found that short nights and total sleep duration were associated with a high risk of cancer incidence a middle-aged and elderly population.

Arguably, the number one reason most of us don’t get enough sleep is due to psychological stress. When we slow down and the lights go out, we tend to ruminate on our problems, be they social, financial, work related—you name it. But for those who are also contending with cancer, the stress can be multiplied by the combining of psychological or existential stress with physical stress and symptoms such as pain. The good news is that there are many ways to help you manage the stress or other factors causing a bad night’s sleep.

We are strong proponents of cancer survivors and others avoiding sleeping pills whenever possible. There are of course times when taking sleeping pills may be appropriate to help break a bad cycle or for a limited period. But it is vital to understand that sleeping pills do not tackle the root problem leading to sleep disturbances. Also, pill-assisted sleep is not truly restorative sleep. While sleeping pills do put you to sleep, they do not move you through all stages of sleep. In fact, no drug on the market increases the deepest stages of sleep, the restorative part of sleep, critical for maintaining health. So, you may feel like you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, but the true restoration needed to improve your health will still be missing.

There are several anticancer living approaches to addressing healthy sleep. These strategies are evidence-based techniques for improving sleep quality and quantity and include the following: 1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia; 3) Tai Chi; 3) Yoga; and 4) Meditation. Each strategy has been found to improve sleep outcomes in cancer survivors and people with no experience with cancer. Learn more about these techniques and other behavioral strategies for restoring healthy sleep in our book Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. There is also great information at the Sleep Foundation and at the National Counsel on Aging.


Photo credit: Marcus Aurelius

« »