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Are Your Sleep Habits Damaging Your Liver?

Before we talk about which sleep habits are damaging your liver, let’s get to know this organ. The liver performs more than 500 vital bodily functions. Here are a few:

  • Bile production. The liver produces bile, which helps break down the fat in food.
  • Glucose storage. It stores sugar called glucose, which gives you a quick energy boost when you need it.
  • Detoxification. It’s responsible for detoxifying your blood by removing harmful chemicals, such as hormones that have done their job, that are produced in your body.

The Liver’s Working Hours

Plenty is going on in our body when we’re sleeping, but the most important function is detoxification. This happens ideally between 11 pm to 3 am. During these hours, our liver becomes much larger as blood supplies from all over our body converge here.

Researchers monitoring phases of activity and rest in mice saw that the size of the liver gradually increases to about 40% more towards the end of the night and that it returns to its initial size during the day. When the normal circadian rhythm is reversed, this fluctuation disappears. As mammals, our liver works much the same way as the liver of mice. What happens to your liver, and by extension to you, if you can’t sleep during these hours? Can detoxification take place if you’re awake between 11 pm to 3 am? Here are three studies that seem to indicate that you’re heading for trouble if you don’t catch your shut-eye at the right time.

Sleep and Glucose

Studies show that losing a single night’s sleep may affect the liver’s ability to produce glucose and process insulin. This increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as hepatic steatosis (fatty liver) and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep and Liver Fat

As many as 1 in 4 Americans are estimated to have excess liver fat. This can lead to inflammation and damage that could eventually cause liver failure. Fat production in the liver is affected by the circadian rhythm. So says a mouse study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.  The study showed that liver cells change with the time of day and these changes influence gene expression. When mice are asleep and fasting, the genes involved in fat production are active and help prevent the liver from producing fat. Watch out if you’re disrupting your daily cycle with rotating shift work or night flights. This can increase the risk of diseases like obesity and diabetes.

Sleep and Liver Cancer

Researchers have also associated sleep disruption with increased risk of liver cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that 700,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with liver cancer each year. If you’re overweight, you run more of a risk for liver cancer. The same applies if you suffer from chronic sleep disruption. Scientists exposed mice to disrupted light and dark cycles for nearly 2 years. These cycles disrupted the normal sleep cycles of the mice. As a result, the mice developed a range of conditions, including skin disorders, neurodegeneration, and cancer.

Keep Your Liver Healthy For a Good Night

We’ve established that adequate sleep at the right times can keep your liver healthy. Sadly, if you already have liver damage, you’ll probably have trouble sleeping. Liver damage (cirrhosis) can be caused by harmful alcohol consumption, viral hepatitis B and C, metabolic disorders, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Most patients with liver damage have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. Their sleep is of poor quality, and in addition to sleeping less, they feel sleepy during the day. We don’t really understand why liver patients struggle with insomnia, but the hormone cortisol probably plays a part in things.

As well as getting to sleep on time, there’s one more thing that you can do to help your liver function: keep calm and relaxed so that your cortisol levels don’t rise. When you wake up in the morning, you usually feel energized. That’s thanks to the stress hormone cortisol that was secreted into your body before you woke up. Stress will elevate the cortisol levels in your blood. Your liver will have a harder time deactivating this hormone. The longer the hormone stays in your system, the harder it’ll be for you to fall asleep.


Rhona Lewis is a healthcare freelance writer with over 11 years of writing experience that she uses to help healthcare companies grow their authority and create brand awareness. Her background as a journalist means she’s curious enough to ask the right questions and committed to thorough research. She has a knack for breaking down complex medical concepts into content that a lay audience will read till the end.

Reference Articles:

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/molecular-link-between-sleep-liver-fat

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314318.php

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664866/

MFN Contributing Author