The New York Times has discovered chronobiology, including chronomodulated chemotherapy. The excellent science writer, Olivia Judson, PhD, in the course of a column on circadian rhythms, mentioned the influence that time of day has on the effectiveness of anticancer drugs. She also noted in passing that you can decrease your risk of breast and other cancers by sleeping in a really dark environment at night:
“Several of the drugs used in chemotherapy,” she wrote, “also have a ‘best’ time of day: give the drug at the right moment, and you can take a smaller dosage, get a greater benefit and have a lower risk of unpleasant side effects. Sounds good. But don’t forget: regular good sleep in a nice dark room can inhibit tumors, and may thus help you avoid chemo in the first place.”
Bravo! To my knowledge, this is the first mention of “chronomodulated chemo” in the Times and maybe is a harbinger of a more inquisitive attitude towards innovative treatments. Sadly, she fails to mention that Keith Block, MD, of the Block Center in Evaston, IL, has been practicing “chronomodulated chemotherapy” for years. Like most exciting new developments in cancer treatment, this approach has been thoroughly neglected by the leaders of the war on cancer.
In 2009, however, there was finally a conference at the New York Academy of Sciences on the topic of circadian rhythm disruption and cancer. Block, in his role as editor-in-chief of Integrative Cancer Therapies, published the proceedings of that conference in December 2009 edition of that excellent journal. Judson seems unaware of this conference or this publication.
“Chrono” is just one of the promising ways that chemotherapy could be made more effective and humane. There are others, which the Times has yet to discover.
I will repeat here the suggestions I made after I came back from the NYAS conference in June:
1. Avoid shift work, if you possibly can. Shift workers have more cancer than those who work during daylight hours. It’s unnatural for the body to be up and about in the middle of the night.
2. Sleep in as dark a room as you can manage. I installed blackout shades in my bedroom and immediately experienced better sleep. I also shut all doors that would let in outside light. (It’s dismaying how lit up the night is in most urban or suburban areas!) If necessary, use an opaque eye mask to block out light during the night.
3. Avoid blue or green nightlights, clock radios, etc. If you must have these devices, use red lights (since red light does not destroy your melatonin, which forms during the night).
4. If at all possible, do not expose yourself to light sources (by reading, watching TV, etc.) between the key hours of 2 am and 5 am. This is when you form most of your melatonin.
As soon as I greatly reduced light exposure during sleep I experienced several health benefits: I no longer have to get up often during the night and I awake more refreshed. I also have improved my general health and believe I have reduced my risk of cancer. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, especially for those who have in the past had difficulty sleeping. It’s worth trying before resorting to either natural sleep aids (such as melatonin supplements) or prescription drugs like Ambien (zolpidem), which can have serious side effects.