Waking at 3 am? It Could Be Your Liver
Are you constantly waking up nightly at 2 - 3am then spending the next couple of hours tossing and turning, only to find yourself finally dozing off and waking up with complete fatigue?
You’re not alone. There are multiple influences on your circadian rhythm and why you might be waking up in the night. And one of these influences is your liver.
But first, what is a ‘circadian rhythm’?
As humans (though this is also present in other life forms such as plants, animals, and bacteria) we all have a 24-hour cycle which is a natural cycle of changes in the body. These range from physical and behavioural changes, to changes that affect our mental health, hormones, blood pressure, cognition, and more. We often call this cycle our body clock, sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
Research suggests that liver detoxification plays a huge role in your circadian rhythm. It could be that the reason you are waking up in the middle of the night is because of your liver.
The Role Of The Liver
The liver plays an incredibly important role in your body. It balances energy, cleanses the blood, and breaks down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Cholesterol, sex hormones and thyroid metabolism also have their own metabolic clock processing times within the liver – what!? YEP! Your body is super complex and needs to be nourished accordingly.
The liver is the key organ in the body for detoxification, and the liver naturally detoxifies when you are in the deepest non-REM cycle of sleep. This normally takes place around 12 — 3am. It is a big job, as when the liver detoxifies it is metabolising cholesterol, fatty acids, glucose, thyroid hormones, bile acids, iron and everything in between.
When your liver is heavily congested, or your liver function is imbalanced, it may influence your sleep/wake cycle. It can cause you to wake in the night and find it harder to have a peaceful night's sleep.
To feel fully rested, it is important to maintain optimal liver health so that your circadian rhythm doesn’t keep you up in the middle of the night.
What Influences Your Sleep/Wake Cycle?
Here are just some of the things that can disturb your circadian rhythm and make your liver have to work harder to naturally cleanse the body.
Going To Bed Late
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) suggests that liver blood flow is heightened from 11pm to 3am. They recommend that for optimal repair people should be in deep sleep by this time. They also believe that anger debilitates the liver, causing stagnation and inability to sufficiently cleanse the blood.
When we go to sleep late or go to bed angry it can mean that our liver isn’t able to work as efficiently, disrupting your circadian rhythm.
Eating Before Sleep
The pancreas also has its own body clock, too. It has feeding-fasting clock rhythms that control insulin. When you eat too late at night, or have sweets and sugary foods before bed, it can put extra pressure on your pancreas. When your body should be in a fasting and reparative state, it instead forces your pancreas to process and balance blood sugar.
But it is not just your pancreas that lowers blood sugar. It is the liver, too. If the liver is frequently processing blood sugar when the body should be fasting, it can make the liver become less efficient.
High Stress Levels
Cortisol is a hormone that regulates metabolism and the immune response. It has an important role in helping the body respond to stress. It is also a key regulator of your sleep/wake cycle.
When your cortisol levels are high, such as from excessive stress, exertion, or trauma, it can significantly affect your circadian rhythm. It can also affect your cortisol metabolism, blood sugar metabolism and liver detoxification.
Cortisol has been shown to influence clock gene Per1 in the liver, potentially influencing the liver's clock rhythm. Melatonin (your night-time perceived hormone) also has a direct synchronistic rhythm to cortisol – if cortisol is increased, melatonin is often decreased in ratio.
If you’re dealing with underlying chronic stress or environmental stressors, this can be a key influence on your sleep/wake cycle. Learn how to balance adrenal glands and cortisol here.
Another influence on your sleep/wake cycle can be your daily hormonal rhythms. When hormonal communications are imbalanced, they have detrimental effects on the circadian rhythmicity.
Poor sleep quality is also common with sex hormone changes that happen during adolescence, post-partum, perimenopause and menopause. The ovaries have their own very intricate body clock mechanisms necessary for healthy hormonal rhythms. When oestrogen and progesterone are imbalanced, it can significantly impact your sleep/wake cycle.
How To Have A Healthy Sleep/Wake Cycle
To have a restful, uninterrupted sleep it is so important to nourish your liver and take steps to help it naturally cleanse with ease. Here are a few simple things you can do to maintain liver health, sleep well, and feel energised.
1. Avoid Eating Late
Avoid eating late in the evening, especially sweets and processed or high carbohydrate foods. For better sleep try to have your last meal three hours prior to bedtime.
2. Eat More Bitter Foods
Bitter foods are very nutritious, and they are also great for improving gut, eye, and liver health. They can include cruciferous vegetables (sprouts, kale, cabbage), dark leafy greens, bitter gourd, cacao, turmeric, ginger, and citrus. Try increasing the amount you have with each meal. Also, check out these foods that help with sleep.
3. Reduce Brightness Before Bed
Set automated timers on your screens to reduce brightness and blue lights to their lowest setting. Try to synchronise your rhythms with the external natural environment. Wake upon sunrise and ensure dim lighting with sunset. Another way to reduce brightness is to avoid screens and bright lights two hours prior to bed. Instead, try listening to an audiobook that is set to a timer to avoid looking at the screen.
4. Try Some Evening Stress Reducing Activities
Instead of being on your phone or laptop just before bed, try some calming activities to help reduce cortisol. These may include journaling, meditation, evening stretches, reading, or some sort of gentle outlet for your mental health.
5. Address Any Unresolved Issues
Going to bed angry or stressed can leave us tossing and turning, and make it harder for the liver to detoxify. Try to see a counsellor, sign up for group therapy, or find ways to help work through difficult underlying emotions.
6. Have A Nightly Routine
Implement a nightly routine including feel good accompaniments – epsom salt foot soaks, essential oils, salt lamps, body oils, self-love, gratitude journaling, and reconnecting to your mind and body.
Looking After Your Liver
To nourish and protect the liver it is important to focus on balancing hormones, improving digestion, evaluating your diet, and rectifying any poor sleep patterns.
Additionally to our recommendations, a daily natural supplement can also help to support a better sleep/wake cycle. Our product Happy Liver works to maintain liver health, assist the liver and its natural cleansing processes, and relieve indigestion. If you are looking to protect your liver and help it to naturally detoxify the body, then Happy Liver is for you.
With all of these suggestions you can work towards maintaining a healthy wake/sleep cycle. We know a good night’s sleep is crucial for feeling productive, happy, and energised. That’s why making sure we have a happy, healthy liver can help us to feel our best.
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