Can a Disrupted Circadian Rhythm Cause Cancer?

Clara Rupp


In our modern world, working late into the night or even starting a shift after the sun has gone down is not uncommon. The use of artificial light in our homes and electronics has led to more people reporting less sleep at night as well as irregular sleeping patterns. It is well known that, during sleep, our cells utilize the rest period to repair damaged cells and regenerate new cells after apoptosis (programmed cell death) of older cell bodies. Researchers are currently investigating the theory that due to modern sleep schedules, disrupted circadian rhythms could be a contributing factor to the rise of cancer in modern times. This theory stems from the idea that, without a normal circadian rhythm, cells are unable to move through their normal processes of repair and regeneration. This disruption could theoretically lead to higher concentrations of damaged or mutated cells, such as those that can cause cancer. Cells that evade apoptosis, those that are unable to be repaired from outside damages, or cells affected by mutations often are subject to changes in behavior which can result in the rapid cell division that can cause cancer. Suppose researchers could definitively prove the link between disrupted circadian rhythms and cancer-causing cells. In that case, there is a possibility that we could lower the chances of cancer in individuals who suffer from irregular sleep schedules by regulating their sleep cycles more efficiently. 

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