It seems that women are more prone to get breast cancer if they have a disordered body clock. However, being a ‘morning person’ is likely to cut the risk of breast cancer, research suggests. A major study of the genes of 400,000 women found a significant difference in the chances of developing breast cancer between morning people and those who prefer evenings.
The researchers, led by the University of Bristol, believe women who prefer to stay up at night are more prone to have what they call a disturbed body clock. They are also exposed to a greater level of artificial light at night, which has been shown to increase breast cancer risk because it affects women’s hormones. The scientists, writing in the British Medical Journal, stressed the risk was small but significant. For every hundred women who prefer mornings, one fewer would get breast cancer than every hundred who prefer evenings, they found. This pales in comparison with other factors that increase breast cancer, such as drinking and obesity, but with 54,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK every year – and 11,000 deaths – avoiding even a small increase in the risk could make a major difference.
Nearly all living things have an internal mechanism – known as the Circadian Rhythm, or body clock – which synchronizes bodily functions to the 24-hour pattern of the earth’s rotation. It is regulated by the bodily senses, most importantly the way the eye perceives light and dark and the way skin feels temperature changes. The mechanism rules our daily rhythms, including our sleep, waking patterns and metabolism. When it falls out of sync, it can have a knock-on impact on our more general health. The researchers wrote: ‘These findings have potential implications for influencing sleep habits of the general population to improve health.’
As someone who is in a constant struggle to have a full night’s sleep, I found this profound study to be certainly linked to those of us, whether male or female, with a disturbed body clock. My own problem is one of winding down after a turbulent day in the office.
Perhaps the time will come where I will learn that a stress of this kind can be overcome through a regular determination to put health ahead of everything else. I shall try at least… and hopefully get rid of the agony of not sleeping.