Breast cancer incidence has increased during recent decades for reasons that are only partly understood. Prevalence of sleeping difficulties and sleepiness has increased, whereas sleeping duration per night has decreased. We hypothesized that there is an inverse association between sleep duration and breast cancer risk, possibly due to greater overall melatonin production in longer sleepers. This population-based study includes information from women born in Finland before 1958. Sleep duration, other sleep variables, and breast cancer risk factors were assessed by self-administered questionnaires given in 1975 and in 1981. Breast cancer incidence data for 1976 to 1996 was obtained from the Finnish Cancer Registry. Hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were obtained from Cox proportional hazards models adjusting for potential confounders. Altogether, 242 cases of breast cancer occurred over the study period among the 12,222 women with sleep duration data in 1975. For these women, the HRs for breast cancer in the short (< or =6 hours), average (7-8 hours), and long sleep (> or =9 hours) duration groups were 0.85 (CI, 0.54-1.34), 1.0 (referent), and 0.69 (CI, 0.45-1.06), respectively. Analysis restricted to the 7,396 women (146 cases) whose sleep duration in 1975 and 1981 were in the same duration group (stable sleepers) yielded HRs of 1.10 (CI, 0.59-2.05), 1.0, and 0.28 (CI, 0.09-0.88), with a decreasing trend (P = 0.03). This study provides some support for a decreased risk of breast cancer in long sleepers.