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Charles Matthews: In the Spotlight

Charles E. Matthews, Ph.D., is a researcher studying how sleep behaviors may relate to cancer risk at the NCI.

Meet Dr. Charles Matthews from the Connect Research Team 

Charles E. Matthews, Ph.D., is a physical activity epidemiologist and senior investigator in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). His research focuses on better understanding how health behaviors may affect cancer risk. 

Early in his career, Dr. Matthews was an exercise physiologist providing recommendations for patients in a heart health clinic. However, his love for epidemiology, the study of patterns of disease, led him to research on how exercise and other health behaviors could influence disease risk, including cancer. This includes contributing to large-scale studies, like Connect, and implementing state-of-the-art methods for measuring sleep, physical activity, and diet.  

Ways of Measuring Health Behaviors 

Dr. Matthews, and other physical activity scientists, use devices called accelerometers that capture a person’s movement to measure physical activity. With the improvement of this technology, he and other researchers are able to measure all types of movement and behavior over the course of the day, including times of sleep.

Unique Opportunities to Study Cancer Prevention and Sleep in Connect

Sleep, physical activity, and sedentary behavior (sitting) are three important behaviors that interact with one another and influence health in many ways. There is still a lot to learn. Enter our (looong) surveys. Through Connect and the dedication of participants like you, we have an exciting opportunity to better measure sleep and physical activity. These data will improve our ability to study and understand how these behaviors are related to cancer risk. 

We know that changes in our sleep patterns may affect cancer risk. For example, studies of shift workers and the change in their day-to-day sleep schedules and exposure (or lack thereof) to sunlight, have shown an increased risk of some cancers, like breast and colorectal. However, there is much more to learn about how routine variation in sleep schedules and exposure to sunlight could affect the risk of getting other cancers.

We built Connect to include participants from different backgrounds with diverse lifestyles, including people whose work may require them to be awake at different times of the day and/or those who have less time to be physically active in their leisure time. Understanding how various lifestyles and sleep schedules among different people relate to health and disease risk may help inform cancer prevention research in the future. 

Looking Toward the Future of Research

Dr. Matthews is amazed by the generosity of Connect participants who give their time and energy to this long-term study. 

He reminds participants that Connect activities roll out in phases and that staying engaged is critical: “There are a number of exciting and important activities related to sleep and physical activity to come in the study that will provide us with much better measures of these behaviors than we have been able to use in the past.” For example, Connect researchers are exploring ways to use mobile sensors, like smart watches, to measure physical activity, sleep, heart rate, and exposure to light. We are working to integrate these data sources to improve our ability to understand the relationships between these behaviors and cancer risk. 

Getting Better Rest

Dr. Matthews recommends checking out the tips for better sleep from the CDC that we shared in this newsletter. He shared that, like many of us, his sleep revolves around his dogs that wake him up each morning at daybreak. In addition to waking up at the same time each day, he works to get to bed at a decent hour so he can get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night. 

We all have a reason, our why, for joining this important study. You may have had an experience that could encourage someone else to join Connect or motivate a participant to complete their next study activity. Consider sharing your story by contacting our team at the Connect Support Center.  

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