Good Sleep Prevents Cancer

I have long said that good health begins with good sleep. I came to this conclusion when I improved my sleep a great deal and at exactly the same time stopped getting obvious colds. I concluded that better sleep made my immune system work better. At the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, in Los Angeles, Rob Wolf said something similar about the centrality of sleep: “If a person sleeps well, you can’t kill them. If they sleep badly, you can’t keep them alive.”

Mainstream health researchers, on the other hand, haven’t figured this out. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, in a recent paper about how to fight cancer, wrote this:

Long known has been PERIOD 2 (PER2) involvement as a clock protein at the heart of the circadian rhythms of higher animal cells. Later, quite unexpectedly [emphasis added], PER2 was found to function as a tumour suppressor, with the absence of both its copies causing the rate of radiation-induced cancers to rise.

When PER2 is absent, circadian rhythms disappear and sleep becomes very fragmented, spread out over the whole day. When you sleep better (which usually means more deeply), your immune system works better band does a better job of suppressing tumors. There is plenty of other supporting evidence. For example, in 2012 two studies found sleep apnea associated with higher cancer rates. The PER2 evidence is especially good at establishing cause and effect.

24 Replies to “Good Sleep Prevents Cancer”

  1. Great! But improving sleep isn’t easy. So what do you suggest for someone who needs 10-11 hours of sleep each day? I know I’ve asked this before, but I’m curious if anyone has new ideas.

  2. I was having a lot of problem staying asleep. Never had sleep problems before, but I am studying for my USMLE Step 1 exam (medical boards) and this has caused a lot of stress leading to my present sleep problems. I’ve tried honey before sleep, morning faces, not eating breakfast, red glasses at night, standing on one leg to exhaustation. Nothing worked. I always waked up 4 hours after I went to sleep. The post about “sleepy dust” glucose+salt to get back to sleep got me thinking. What if I took glucose + salt before I went to sleep would that make a difference? However, instead of using pure glucose I decided to use ribose (more heart healthy) and trehalose (2 glucose molecules held together which digest slowly) instead. I tried the following mixture, and lo and behold I slept 8 hours without waking up early! My SleepCycle (what an awesome app) scores went up from 55% to 75% with night movements reduced from 1000+ to around a 100. I tried substituting pure glucose for the ribose and rrehalose a few nights later and did not get the same results. The cheapest source for ribose I found is Swanson’s and for trehalose it is’s NeuroCoat brand.

    5 g Ribose
    10 g Trehalose
    1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
    1 teaspoon lemon juice (for vitamin c)

  3. No, I’d imagine any salt would do the trick. I just like Himalayan salt’s taste and it doesn’t have the additives that normal table salt has.

  4. Didn’t work without the salt. Lemon juice probably doesn’t make much of a difference; haven’t tried it without it. I’ll try without it and see what happens.

  5. While I have little doubt that sleeping well is a good indicator for immune health, I still have questions about how much it affects it or why it affects it. I’ve struggled with sleep apnea since I was very young. About 12 years ago, I decided to begin working out vigorously on a regular schedule. Before that, I would say that I got an average number of colds and flu’s a year. Since that time, I only miss a day of work every 3 or 4 years even though I had untreated sleep apnea still. Even more recently, I’ve managed to beat my apnea after starting the paleo diet so now I’m probably invincible.

  6. the Trehalose is pretty cheap to get, the Ribose is a bit more pricey.
    might get some Trehalose & give that a try either in its own or with sugar/glucose/fructose

  7. Is 4 hours of sleep, some of it very deep, better than 8 hours of shallow sleep? I can wake up and not feel rested at all even after getting a long night’s sleep. Jared Diamond said in his most recent book that the New Guineans he was familiar with would get up and talk throughout the night, so getting 8-9 hours of straight sleep might not be entirely natural.

    Seth: I agree, depth of sleep is really important. I haven’t seen Diamond’s latest book but now I am curious what conclusion he drew from his sleep observations.

  8. From what I recall, a biphasic sleep schedule is the most natural. One blogger, JD Moyer did a self-experiment where he went without electricity at night & he ended up sleeping about 4 hours, then waking up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours before falling back asleep. Afternoon siestas are pretty common in a natural sleep cycle too.

    1. to determine what sleep is “natural” you have to set every variable that affects sleep to its natural level. Surely Moyer does not know every variable that affects sleep. For example, I suspect he doesn’t know about the effects of evening sweets. Which is a really big effect.

  9. See this excellent stifle for the history of sleep. Indeed it appears as if we slept twice a first sleep of 4 hours followed by a 1 hour rest and then a 2nd sleep.

    Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-industrial Slumber in the British Isles
    The American Historical Review (2001) 106 (2): 343-386

  10. Try a thin comforter on the floor. You have to be extremely concious of where your hips sit when you sleep this way, so your posture stays correct. I used to have wicked insomnia before starting this.

    Now time to sleep is less than five minutes and can rise immeadiately upon waking, no matter what I have eaten, or if theres caffiene in my system.

    1. “Try a thin comforter on the floor. You have to be extremely concious of where your hips sit when you sleep this way, so your posture stays correct. I used to have wicked insomnia before starting this.”

      What sort of insomnia did you have? trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early (not feeling rested when you wake up)?

  11. “Try a thin comforter on the floor. You have to be extremely concious of where your hips sit when you sleep this way, so your posture stays correct”

    The posture ‘thing’ is interesting, i take it the comforter on the floor ‘forces’ you to sleep on your back?…

    …the ‘best’ sleep position suggestions/recommendations seem to vary, different people suggest different positions and for various different reasons/theories.
    some of the reasons are based on ailments, ie. gerd, heart, lungs,

  12. Seeing as recovery hormones are released when our muscles work, I figure the tossing and turning is an emergency measure to quieten down the endocrine glands. For just a few seconds after rolling over (in a sleepless fit) one really feels some good endorphins flowing.

    With this in mind, I sometimes do some exercises in the wee hours if I can’t sleep. The success rate varies depending on many other factors.

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