Health

Fatty liver disease: Sleep disturbances including insomnia and sleep-wake cycle are signs

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Symptoms of liver disease may be subtle to non-existent until the disease has reached such a severe stage it is too late to reverse it. Most of us don’t give a second thought to our liver and its wellbeing or give it the care it deserves. More than 18 million people in the UK have early-stage Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and many of them don’t even know it. It results in inflammation and potentially irreparable damage. Experiencing these six sleep disturbances could indicate trouble.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is usually secreted just before a person wakes up in the morning helping one to feel refreshed and energised for the day ahead.

Melatonin, on the other hand, is produced as natural light fades, helping one to feel relaxed and sleepy in preparation for bedtime. 

The liver can influence these hormones in a couple of ways.

Firstly, if you’re prone to stress or anxiety, it may mean that your blood levels of cortisol become elevated, thereby increasing the liver’s workload when it comes to deactivating this hormone.

In cases of chronic stress, the liver may become overwhelmed, meaning that excess cortisol may remain in the system for longer which in turn affects the melatonin levels or a person’s sleep patterns.

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In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, sleep disturbances in patients with liver cirrhosis was analysed. 

The study noted: “The main causes of cirrhosis are related to harmful alcohol consumption, viral hepatitis B and C, metabolic disorders, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“Sleep–wake disturbances are common in liver cirrhosis and associated with impaired quality of life.

“The most common abnormalities are insomnia (difficulties falling asleep and maintaining sleep, or unrefreshing sleep), excessive daytime sleepiness, and sleep–wake inversion (disturbances of circadian rhythmicity).

“A few non-specific treatments for sleep–wake abnormalities have been tried, with encouraging results for hydroxyzine and modafinil.

“However, due to the increased potential for medication toxicity in these disabled patients, further studies are needed to address the potential role of non-drug therapies in this population (eg, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, yoga) that have demonstrated usefulness in insomnia disorders.”

Insufficient shut-eye day after day can lead to even more liver dysfunction.

It also carries the added risk of adversely affecting the hormone levels (particularly ghrelin and leptin) in ways that may increase a person’s hunger and promote weight gain.

Most adults need seven to nine hours’ sleep a night.

Stress can also trigger restlessness and increase the risk of fatty liver disease.

By ensuring you find ways to help your body destress you can improve your sleeping and reduce the risk of serious health consequences including fatty liver disease.


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