Is skipping out on sleep raising your cancer risk?

Can't sleep?

You're facing more than just a miserable day. If you have long-term sleep problems, you're facing a higher risk of disease -- including a higher risk of cancer.

Low levels of the sleep hormone melatonin are known to increase the risk of cancer in men and women alike. But today, I'm going to focus on men -- because new research finds that low levels of melatonin can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

And not just any old prostate cancer, either.

While many prostate tumors are harmless and often need no treatment at all, low melatonin can increase your risk of the advanced prostate cancers that could hurt or even kill you, according to the study.

That's the bad news.

Ready for the good news? You can slash your risk of this potentially deadly disease simply by sleeping better.

Raise your melatonin levels, and your risk of advanced prostate cancer will plunge by 75 percent, according to the new study of 928 Icelandic men.

I can't think of anything else that can cut your risk by that much, so if you're not sleeping well, it's time to make a few changes -- and that means more than just getting the right amount of sleep.

It means sleeping at the right times, too.

Since your body uses sunlight as its cue to start and stop melatonin production, being asleep during the day and awake at night could also lower your hormone levels, even if you get plenty of sleep.

That's why night work has been linked to a higher risk of cancer in men and women alike.

In addition, make sure you get the right quality of sleep. Sleep drugs, for example, might increase your total sleep (although that's debatable in many cases), but they won't boost your melatonin levels.

In fact, in the new study, a third of men with sleep problems were on those drugs -- and their melatonin levels remained low.

In some cases, melatonin supplements can both increase your body's level of this essential hormone and help you get better sleep at the same time.

(Think that afternoon coffee isn't affecting your sleep? Think again. Click here for the scoop)

But in many other cases, sleep problems have another underlying cause such as an imbalance in other hormones, or a nutritional deficiency. I recommend working with a holistic medical doctor who can test for and treat those causes naturally.

And for complete natural hormone testing and treatment -- as well as natural sleep solutions -- in the southern California area, make an appointment to see me at my clinic outside San Diego.

If you're not here in California, I'm also available for telephone consultations. Call 855-DOC-MARK to learn more.