NAFLD describes the presence of fatty cells inside the liver, which affects most individuals at varying degrees. Problems arise when these fat cells prevent the organ from functioning properly by causing a build-up of toxic waste in the body. The greater the extent of this damage, the less likely the organ is to recover, which may warrant a liver transplant in some instances.
Sleep disturbances are a well-known characteristic of liver scarring that can significantly impair quality of life, according to the journal of Nature and Science of Sleep.
Doctor Brian Lun, Integrative and Functional Medicine Specialist and Chiropractor based in Kansas City, suggests taking note of your wake-up time to discern whether liver disease is causing your sleep disturbances.
The expert explained: “Usually, the most common cause of waking up between 1 and 4am is a liver problem.
“It may be that you have liver inflammation or fatty liver disease, also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”
According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease, sleep disturbances affect roughly 60 to 80 percent of patients with chronic liver disease.
The most frequent presentations are insomnia, reduced sleep efficiency, daytime sleepiness, and restless leg syndrome.
“When your liver becomes burdened by accumulated fat, it can no longer efficiently and effectively please and detoxify your body,” explained Doctor Lun.
“Since toxins cannot be safely neutralised and removed from the body, the risk of degenerative diseases increases.
“So if your liver is slow and stagnant from an accumulation of fat during the liver cleansing time (1 and 4 am), the body will try to allocate more energy for detoxification and trigger your nervous system to wake up.”
It should be noted, however, that a person’s circadian rhythm may change with age, making early-morning awakenings more common in elderly adults.
In this population, there is an increased tendency to wake up three to four times every night, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Conditions like nocturia, anxiety and other symptoms could be potential causes of age-related sleep changes.
While there is a lack of research supporting the role of liver disease in awakenings between the hours of 1 and 4am, some studies have linked wake-time variability to various lifestyle factors.
Research published in the Journal of Public Health, in 2015, suggested that having bedtimes that varied by more than 30 minutes, was a reflection of lower dietary quality and higher alcohol consumption.
In other words, inconsistent bedtimes appeared to be associated with poorer overall patterns of lifestyle behaviours.
The researchers added: “Greater variability in wake times, usual bedtimes, and usual wake times, were inconsistently associated with lifestyle behaviours.”