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Medical experts have routinely championed the importance of getting enough sleep.

A good night’s rest, they say, reduces stress and even improves a person’s mood.

Now, researchers have gone a step further discovering that adequate sleep can help men avoid prostate cancer — a disease that’s had especially devastating effects in African-American communities.

In a new study, medical officials found that men younger than 65 who slept just three to five hours a night were 55 percent more likely to develop fatal prostate cancer than those who got the recommended seven hours of rest.

The study, conducted by officials from the American Cancer Society, examined data from two large, long-term cohort studies.

The first study followed more than 407,000 men between 1950 and 1972. The second followed more than 416,000 men from 1982 to 2012.

All the men were cancer-free when the studies began.

But more than 1,500 men in the first study and more than 8,700 men in the second study died of prostate cancer during the follow-up periods.

During the first eight years of follow-up, men younger than 65 years old who slept between three and five hours per night had a 55 percent greater risk of dying from prostate cancer than those who slept seven hours per night.

And six hours of sleep a night was linked to a 29 percent higher risk of prostate cancer death compared to seven hours, as prescribed by the National Sleep Foundation.

Those who were age 65 or older showed no difference in the risk of death from prostate cancer, no matter how much they slept.

About six of 10 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older.

Every year, 1 out of 7 men receive a prostate cancer diagnosis — odds that are far worse for African-American men.

As prostate cancer remains among the top causes of death for American males, years of research have gone into studying the disease, officials said. However, scientists have yet to uncover the disparity that exists among race when it comes to developing prostate cancer.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, African-American men are nearly 1.6 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. They are also 2.4 times more likely than white men to die from the disease.

It’s a fact that makes the latest student important.

“If confirmed in other studies, these findings would contribute to evidence suggesting the importance of obtaining adequate sleep for better health,” said lead study author Dr. Susan Gapstur, vice-president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Gapstur added, however, that more research is needed to better understand the biologic mechanisms, so sleep-deprived males shouldn’t be alarmed.

The findings do provide proof that the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle might play a role in prostate cancer development.

Not only does poor sleep turn off genes that protect against cancer growth but past research has found that not getting enough shuteye can inhibit production of melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.

Low levels of melatonin can lead to an increase in genetic mutations, reduced DNA repair and a weakened immune system, according to Dr. Gapstur.

And although the link between limited sleep and prostate cancer isn’t clear, Dr. Gapstur said “a possibility is that the natural decline in nighttime melatonin levels as you age can reduce the relative impact of lack of sleep.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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