Are there sleep patterns that might be a contributing factor to cancer? Or sleep habits that might help fend off cancer?

Minneapolis-based mattress company Sleep Number and the American Cancer Society (ACS) have entered a six-year partnership to study possible links between sleep and cancer.

The partnership underscores Sleep Number's ongoing strategic push into the world of sleep science, as its 360 smart bed allows customers to collect data on their own sleep patterns.

Cassie Morris joined Sleep Number in 2020 to help pilot the company's expansion into health and wellness. Morris, vice president of innovation strategy and business ventures, has a background in biomedical engineering and has worked for medtech companies including Medtronic.

Morris said that the ACS partnership is anchored by the extensive data that both organizations already have: in-depth population studies from the ACS and 13 billion hours of sleep data through customers connected to Sleep Number's SleepIQ technology.

As Sleep Number digs deeper into sleep research, it may expand into areas that allow customers to use that sleep data more.

"The way that we're thinking about it strategically is that the mattress and the sleep platform right now is not a medical device and is not intended to be," said Morris. "We are investigating additions to the portfolio that would then help intervene upon things we may find in the sleep data."

For example, Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach said in the company's latest earnings call: "Longer term, we are positioning Sleep Number for continued market expansion through new sleep health and wellness revenue streams, including subscription programs."

Already, part of a marketing agreement with the National Football League has Sleep Number sharing sleep data of players and how to analyze it with the league. Sensors on the company's smart beds collect biometric data on consumer sleep habits that can feed a database and help customers understand their own sleep patterns.

In the future, the company says, the sensors may be able to detect and alert sleepers to sleep apnea or cardiac events.

In 2020, Sleep Number announced it would fund several Mayo Clinic research projects into sleep.

As far as the ACS collaboration, Ibach was already connected to the organization as a member of its CEOs Against Cancer program.

Alpa Patel, senior vice president of population science with the ACS and leader of research for the organization, said there are no current sleep recommendations for cancer prevention.

"There has been an insufficient amount of science," said Patel of past studies about cancer and sleep.

Dr. Michael Howell, division director of sleep medicine at the University of Minnesota, which is not involved in the ACS-Sleep Number collaboration, said that poor sleep habits are already known as factors for obesity, cardiovascular disease, dementia and substance abuse.

Howell said that available evidence also suggests that shift workers — such as nurses, doctors, police and firefighters — have a higher risk for cancer.

"I think there's a question here. There is good reason to suspect that healthy, good sleep would prevent cancer or possibly help treat cancer, but we don't know that," said Howell.

For 2021, Sleep Number reported $2.2 billion in revenue, a 17.7% increase from the year before. Strong demand for the 360 beds helped drive its growth.