The link between lack of sleep and colon tumors
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Inadequate sleep is a common issue plaguing our community. Depriving the body from an adequate amount of sleep is a harmful habit, almost equivalent to depriving the body of healthy food. It has been proved that this can eventually lead to serious diseases.

Sleeping is a physiological process that all living organisms regularly need. This enables their cells and organs to perform normally. It is known that all the bodily functions follow a specific daily rhythm organized by the body’s biological clock. In order for this rhythm to remain unabated, the body needs to experience adequate sleep too.

Although the modern medicine has now drawn our attention towards the great importance of sleep, centuries ago, the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) had emphasized on the importance of sleep through more than one tradition (Hadeeth), including the tradition of Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) in Saheeh Al-Bukhaari, where the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised Abdullah by saying, "awake and sleep, as your body has a right upon you", thereby adding a religious importance for adequate sleep.

Modern science has proved that sleep deprivation causes several problems. However, further research into this subject has raised more concerns. Two recent studies published in February 2011 have shown that sleep deprivation can have harmful effects.

  • Study 1: Showed that the sleep deprivation increases colon cancer risk

The first study was published in the Journal of Cancer (Feb. 15, 2011 issue). It included 1240 volunteers whose careful examination showed that 338 of them were impaired with adenoma in rectum and the colon, which are tumors that form prior to colon cancer.

After controlling other conditions such as smoking, obesity, hereditary complications that could increase the possibility of colon cancer, researchers found that a decrease in no. of hours of sleep, particularly sleeping less than 6 hours a day, was a factor that portends the appearance of such tumors.

This relationship between lack of sleeping and appearance of tumors is statistically strong, particularly for women. Since this was the first scientific study suggesting this relation, there isn’t adequate understanding about its exact mechanism.

  • Study 2: Showed that the sleep deprivation increases the heart and brain clot

A second study was published in the European Heart Journal (7 Feb 2011 issue) wherein the researchers observed over 470 thousand male and female participants (follow-up 6.9–25 years) from eight different countries. It was found that those who slept less than 6 hours a day were 48% more liable to develop heart clots and 15% more liable to develop brain clots as compared to those who slept for 7 to 8 hours a day. Hence, the research suggested that 7-8 hours is the most appropriate amount of sleep for most people.

The aim of these studies is to highlight the significance of getting enough amount of sleep, and encourage people to follow a proactive approach and maintain a healthy sleeping and waking up schedule.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention towards an important disclaimer - The results of these studies might not be applicable to those who inherently require lesser hours of sleep. The amount of sleep required for every person is different and is based on his or her age, type of work and other environmental factors.

If you can wake up early in the morning without needing an alarm, and feel lively and energetic throughout the day, you are most probably having an adequate amount of sleep.

Hence, I would like to caution only those individuals who deprive their bodies of an adequate amount of sleep and feel exhausted and tired during the day.


Ahmed BaHammam, FACP, FCCP
Professor of Medicine
Director, University Sleep Disorders Center
College ofMedicine, King Saud University