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Conquering Insomnia

Sleep is important to your health and plays a significant role in fighting liver disease. Find out five common reasons why people with a compromised liver are susceptible to insomnia. Also, learn how alcohol affects sleep as well as seven liver-friendly tips for conquering insomnia.

Insomnia is a common problem that can be temporary or chronic. As many as 1 in 10 Americans have chronic insomnia, and at least 1 in 4 sometimes have difficulty sleeping. People with liver disease may possess a wide range of reasons making them more prone to sleep issues. While the nightcap is used in many traditions to aid sleep, it actually inflicts damage to an insomniac with liver disease. Experts on sleep hygiene and liver disease agree that there are many techniques far superior to an alcoholic beverage for restoring healthy sleep – especially for a person with a compromised liver.

Sleep is as important to your health as a healthy diet and regular exercise are. Whatever your reason for sleep loss, insomnia affects people both mentally and physically. The impact can be cumulative, with chronic insomnia likely to precede depression, anxiety, internal organ or chronic pain disorders. Additionally, lack of sleep slows your problem-solving skills and may cause someone to take unnecessary risks.

Variations on sleeplessness include problems falling asleep, maintaining sleep or experiencing non-restorative sleep. Because sleep rejuvenates the psyche and immune system, insomnia affects energy level, mood and overall health. The result of poor sleep is fatigue, which always perpetuates chronic illness. Long-term sleep deprivation increases the severity of chronic disease, including all kinds of liver disease.

When it comes to liver disease, the following are popular culprits for insomnia:

· Stress or Anxiety – Concerns about your health may keep your mind overly active, making relaxation and therefore a restful sleep difficult.

· Sleep Apnea – Affecting over 12 million Americans, obstructive sleep apnea interrupts the sleep cycle, resulting in poor quality sleep and fatigue. Additionally, French researchers have discovered that sleep apnea is a significant risk factor for fatty liver disease.

· Interferon Treatment – Interferon medication is the favored medical treatment for viral Hepatitis B and C. Although temporary, insomnia is a common side effect of interferon therapy.

· Cirrhosis – In people who have cirrhosis of the liver, histamine levels in the brain are often altered. In the brain, histamine regulates the sleep-wake cycle, so if levels of this chemical get out of balance, so do the person’s sleep patterns.

· Related Illnesses – Patients with liver disease often suffer from other related illnesses, including type-2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension – all of which can have insomnia as a symptom.

The Nightcap
An alcoholic drink consumed just before bed, a nightcap is supposed to be a folk remedy for insomnia. Alcohol is a well-known sedative; a glass of wine, a beer or a toddy has been used as a hypnotic for centuries. Because a small dose of alcohol initially aids sleep, people may be fooled into believing in the validity of this folk remedy. Although an alcoholic beverage may help you fall asleep faster, it actually perpetuates sleeping problems soon after.

If a person’s sleep cycle is interrupted, the deepest, most restorative stages of sleep are never reached and the person will feel fatigued. By controlling the stages of sleep in your brain, some chemicals slow down brain waves, helping you fall asleep, while others stimulate brain waves, causing you to dream and wake. Alcohol disrupts these normal actions, ultimately hindering the quality of your sleep.

Dr. Timothy Roehrs, Director of Research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center of Henry Ford Hospital led a study proving alcohol’s negative effects on sleep health. Roehrs’ study demonstrated:

· Alcohol reduced rapid eye movement (dream sleep) during the first half of sleep.

· Three or more glasses of alcohol increased the number of times participants woke during the second half of sleep.

The body metabolizes and eliminates alcohol during the second half of sleep, causing a rebound effect. In an effort to return to a normal sleep pattern, the body adjusts to a lack of alcohol by overcorrecting, which causes even more sleep disruption.

However, the bottom line for people with liver disease is that ANY amount of alcohol worsens their liver’s health.

Conquering Insomnia
While choosing a nightcap is definitely counterproductive for helping insomnia (especially if you have liver disease), here are seven suggestions to encourage sound sleep:

1. Establish a sleep routine, retiring and rising at the same time each day.

2. Maintain an environment conducive to sleep by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and cool.

3. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and big meals in the evening.

4. Try relaxing before bedtime with a warm bath or other soothing evening ritual.

5. Because fatigue typically causes restless sleep, break an unhealthy sleep cycle. Proven to increase energy levels by up to 40 percent without stimulants, try supplementing with melatonin which can work quickly and helps you fall into a deep health sleep.

6. Do not have a visible bedroom clock. “Clock watching” often intensifies insomnia. Turn the clock face away from you or put it in a drawer.

7. If none of these suggestions are helpful, visit with your physician for additional assistance. If you and your doctor decide to try sleeping medications, make certain to opt for something that puts the least possible strain on your liver.

Although liver disease and sleeping problems often go hand-in-hand, resist the urge to indulge in a nightcap. Even though it may appear to help at first, drinking alcohol for insomnia only makes sleep disruption worse. Additionally, even small bits of alcohol accelerate the course of liver disease. If you do have insomnia, it is important to stop the cycle of sleeplessness and fatigue before exhaustion further weakens your body.

The Editors of FC&A Medical Publishing, The Cure Conspiracy: Medical Myths, Alternative Therapies, and Natural Remedies Even Your Doctor May Not Know, Frank W. Cawood and Associates, Inc., FC&A Medical Publishing, Peachtree City, Georgia, 2005., Sleeping Pills: Are they Safe?, Hearthstone Communications, Ltd, 2007., Managing those Important Unimportant Side Effects, Diana L. Sylvestre, MD, Hepatitis C Support Project, July 2003., Insomnia, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2007., Spotlight On Liver Disease: Improving Today's Treatments, MediLexicon International, Ltd., May 2007., Antihistamine Offers Relief For Cirrhosis Patients With Insomnia, ScienceDaily LLC, May 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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