Sleep is essential for health. Indeed, poor sleep is consistently linked to the development of systemic disease, including depression, metabolic syndrome, and cognitive impairments. Further evidence has accumulated suggesting the role of sleep in cancer initiation and progression (primarily breast cancer). Indeed, patients with cancer and cancer survivors frequently experience poor sleep, manifesting as insomnia, circadian misalignment, hypersomnia, somnolence syndrome, hot flushes, and nightmares. These problems are associated with a reduction in the patients’ quality of life and increased mortality. Due to the heterogeneity among cancers, treatment regimens, patient populations and lifestyle factors, the etiology of cancer-induced sleep disruption is largely unknown. Here, we discuss recent advances in understanding the pathways linking cancer and the brain and how this leads to altered sleep patterns. We describe a conceptual framework where tumors disrupt normal homeostatic processes, resulting in aberrant changes in physiology and behavior that are detrimental to health. Finally, we discuss how this knowledge can be leveraged to develop novel therapeutic approaches for cancer-associated sleep disruption, with special emphasis on host-tumor interactions.
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