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Quality Sleep Can Improve Health

Rectangular graphic with a dark blue background and Connect white and yellow logo in the bottom left corner. Left-aligned, there is a line figure drawing in Connect yellow of a person shown sitting in their bed from the side. They are tucked under the covers and shown with four open bubbles floating around their head, symbolizing dreams. In white, large font, a bold "2 IN 3" is displayed, and underneath, the text reads, "participants reported they did not get restful sleep in the past month"

In their first Connect survey, 2 in 3 participants reported they did not get restful sleep in the past month.

Did You Know?

In the first Connect survey, two of every three Connect participants reported that they didn’t get sound and restful sleep in the past month. Nearly half of participants reported feeling tired throughout the day, and about one in every four reported feeling irritable in the past week due to trouble sleeping. Getting regular, good sleep may help us stay healthy. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seven to eight hours per day for adults (children need even more sleep). For most of us, our sleep routines could be improved.

What we Know from Existing Research

Research has shown that sleep disturbances, which include short, low-quality, or disrupted sleep, disrupt the repair to our bodies and brain that takes place while we sleep and raise the risk of certain chronic diseases, including risk for some cancers. Further, sleep loss can affect our ability to maintain a healthy body weight, by interrupting how our body breaks down food for nutrients and energy.   

Sleep has many benefits; it’s important for healing, strengthening immunity, improving mood and energy levels, and helping your brain function better! According to the American Heart Association, sleep may also help lower your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, dementia, and depression. 

In the NIH AARP Diet and Health Study (another cohort study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)*),  researchers saw a higher risk of stomach cancer in men who were characterized as “short sleepers,” (those sleeping less than seven hours per day). They observed risk patterns for several cancers to be related to sleep, though the relationships varied between men and women. 

In a newly published study by Chuck Matthews and his postdoctoral trainee, Joshua Freeman, both at the NCI, men in the United Kingdom who reported poor sleep quality (30 minutes or more of wakefulness after falling asleep) were 15-20% more likely to develop prostate cancer. This study used a new measure of sleep: a device worn around the wrist called an accelerometer (similar to the step counter in your phone), which captures different sleep characteristics.  

These studies, like many others, leave important questions unanswered. In Connect, we are interested in studying how various sleep patterns (including the length and timing of sleep), and sleep disruptions (e.g., not sleeping in a darkened room due to lights inside or outside), may relate to cancer risk. We also want to learn more about how sleep behaviors impact natural cycles of the body known as circadian rhythms. Length, timing, and quality of sleep, exposure to light, and food intake and physical activity patterns all affect circadian rhythms. If our natural cycles are off balance, it can affect our overall health and disease risk. When it comes to understanding the relationships between sleep and our health, there is a lot to learn!

How Connect will Study Sleep

Connect is collecting information that researchers can use to study how circadian rhythms may affect cancer risk, which may help inform cancer prevention guidance. We aim to collect dietary and physical activity patterns in addition to detailed sleep information at different time points over the course of the study since sleep may change over the course of your life. 

Connect hopes to learn whether differences in sleep patterns relate to health among people of different ages, geographic locations, gender, ethnicities, lifestyles and occupations (e.g. night shift workers). With your help, we may be able to gain knowledge critical to the future of cancer prevention science that will benefit more communities. We are in this together. Thank you for contributing to Connect! 

Tips for Better Sleep

If you’re having trouble getting quality sleep, or would like to improve your overall sleep health, check out these resources: 

If these suggestions don’t help, we recommend talking to your health care provider to explore other ways to improve your sleep. Whatever your relationship with sleep, know that you are not alone. There are lots of ways you can get better rest, including getting extra support. Perhaps you’ll take the new year as a fresh opportunity to focus on getting at least seven hours of sleep daily, as recommended by the CDC. See how it goes. And, take good care!  

On behalf of our team, best wishes for a healthy and happy new year to you and your loved ones.  

We are always open to feedback, questions, and suggestions at the Connect Support Center.

*Connect is a cohort study too!

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Quality Sleep Can Improve Health was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”