Monday, 4 February 2013


In the period leading up to cancer, I was incredibly sleep deprived. When I say 'the period' I'm talking about 6 years of broken sleep. My husband and I had struggled to conceive our sons and I was a fearful parent, overprotective and running to every nocturnal cry. Consequently I created bad habits and our children were exceptionally rubbish sleepers. I was tired to the point of hallucinating. I felt sick on waking, which I averaged 3 times a night for many years. I was constantly unwell, but I soldiered on with the help of a well-stocked medicine cabinet. I set myself up as indispensable in the care of my babies, and in doing so created the perfect environment for disease. Only when diagnosed with cancer did I magically find the time to look after myself, to listen to my body, to understand it's calls for rest and self-love.

Sleep is more important than I ever understood, despite my body screaming for it. We are regulated by a circadian rhythm - the body clock. The need to respect this is far greater than our desire to reclaim some adult time in the evenings. Our pineal gland waits for darkness before it starts to produce melatonin. This hormone is responsible for the winding down of daytime oestrogen production amongst other important jobs. When we stay awake beyond natural daylight hours the artificial light created by television or computer screens sends our pineal gland the message that it's still daytime. Even sleeping with a nightlight will disrupt our production of melatonin. This can eventually lead to an unnatural hormone imbalance. Oestrogen dominance is a strong pre-curser to certain cancers like prostate and breast. It has been proved that night shift workers are more prone to breast cancer (and conversely that blind women are less so). This is thought to be due to an excess of oestrogen and a lack of progesterone: a hormone imbalance linked to the suppression of melatonin production. Melatonin also directly affects the immune system in ways not entirely understood. Taking supplements is not the solution, as it stops our innate production of this hormone.

Sleep also has a direct impact on the liver, which has hundreds of jobs to do at night, jobs which cannot commence until we are asleep. It's important to try to maintain regular bed and waking times to allow the body to follow it's natural circadian rhythm. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine links periods of the day and night to specific organs. If you wake regularly at a certain time, this chart may help you to see which organ is compromised. For a long time I would wake just before 3am. Unsurprisingly this time correlates to the liver.

Ideally we should go to sleep at 10pm and wake at 7am. This gives us an optimum 9 hours of health-giving sleep, and means that we are up and ready to clear our bowels of accumulated night-time waste at the point of 'activation' (around 8.30am). Waking later often leads to the re-assimilation of some of these toxins.

Thankfully my children are now fantastic sleepers, and I make uninterrupted sleep a priority in my journey back to health.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?