​​​​Sleep: The Gift That Gives Back

As December flies by and our calendars fill with holiday events, sleep is often the first health habit to suffer. How important is a good night’s sleep? In his 2015 review entitled, “Why Sleep Is Important for Health”, psychoneuroimmunologist Dr. Michael Irwin details sleep’s restorative role in the immune system (1). Skimping on sleep can reduce our defenses against colds (2), and can even diminish the effectiveness of vaccines (3). Chronic sleep disturbances activate inflammatory responses in the body which have been linked to cardiovascular disease, depression and some types of cancer (1). These are strong reasons to protect our sleep all year long.

 If you are suffering from insomnia, which includes difficulty falling asleep and waking too early, there are evidence-based treatments available. The CHOICE Study is exploring two such therapies - acupuncture (4) and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (5). Because insomnia often appears in the company of pain, depression or anxiety, it is important to see your doctor about sleep problems as early as possible.

 For cancer patients and survivors, whose bodies and immune systems have already been assaulted by cancer and its treatments, good quality sleep is even more important. Several researchers who spoke at the November 2016 Society for Integrative Oncology’s Annual Conference in Miami, FL, including Dr. Irwin, presented compelling evidence for mind-body therapies such as tai ch (6), yoga (7), and mindfulness based programs (8) to improve sleep, mood and quality of life. These holistic therapies harness the power of our minds to influence our bodies, something sleep medications cannot achieve. As we develop our own mind-body practices, we can continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and health.

 This December, we encourage you to make sleep a priority and engage in some mind-body therapies, which are also excellent ways to alleviate stress. We wish you a joyful holiday season full of restful sleep and wellness!


(1) Irwin MR Why sleep is important for health: a psychoneuroimmunology perspective. Annu Rev Psychol. Jan 3;66:143-72. Available from URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25061767 [Accessed 12-3-2016]
(2) Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:62–67.
(3) Spiegel K, Sheridan JF, Van Cauter E. Effect of sleep deprivation on response to immunization. JAMA. 2002;288:1471–72.
(4) Zhao K. Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2013;11:217-234
(5) Edinger JD, Means MK.Cognitive behavioral therapy for primary insomnia. Clin Psychol Rev. 2005;25(50:539-558
(6) Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Breen EC, et al. Tai chi, cellular inflammation, and transcriptome dynamics in breast cancer survivors with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2014 Nov;2014(50):295-301.
(7) Mustian MK. Yoga as Treatment for Insomnia Among Cancer Patients and Survivors: A Systematic Review. Eur Med J Oncol. 2013 Nov 1;1:106-115. Available from URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25343044 [Accessed 12-3-2016]
(8) Carlson LE. Mindfulness-based interventions for coping with cancer. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 June;1373(1):5-12. Available from URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26963792 [Accessed 12-3-2016]