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Does Sleep Apnea Cause Liver Problems? Treatment You Need to Know


Does Sleep Apnea Cause Liver Problems? Treatment You Need to Know


Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Ragiinii Sharma

Written By Kirti Saxena
on Apr 23, 2024

Last Edit Made By Kirti Saxena
on Apr 23, 2024

Does Sleep Apnea Cause Liver Problems? Treatment You Need to Know

The Shocking Link Between Sleep Apnea & Liver Health

Did you sleep well last night? 

Are you getting quality sleep? 

If you answer “No,” this blog is for you. 

As per recent studies, nearly 93% of Indians are sleep-deprived. 72% of Indians wake one to three times per night and 87% report that sleep affects their health.

But what is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, disrupting the sleep cycle. Common symptoms include daytime fatigue, loud snoring, witnessed breathing pauses during sleep, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. 

Men are twice as prone to obstructive sleep apnea than women. Recent studies show that 13.7% of adults and 7.5% of middle-aged men in India, as compared to 5% of women, are suffering from sleep apnea.

But how is this study linked with liver disease?

Inadequate sleep duration is associated with a high risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because it impacts liver enzymes, blood, and liver fat. However, the only way to prevent this is to have adequate sleep. 

In this blog, let's discover the connection between sleep apnea and liver health. We'll explore how sleep apnea affects the liver, its causes, and, most importantly, what you can do to address both issues.

Why is adequate sleep important?

Sleep plays an important function in human life and accounts for up to one-third of the lifespan. When you sleep, your brain is not "resting" but engaged in various activities necessary to improve health, increase life, and impact the liver.

Studies show that people who sleep 7-8.5 hours daily have higher life expectancy than those who sleep less than seven hours.

With every one-hour decrease in sleep time, as recommended by seven to eight hours, the risk of fat deposition in the liver increased by 24% compared to those who slept well.

People between 50 and 75 without sleep disturbances have a higher life expectancy without chronic disease development. 

The Sleep-Liver Connection- How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Liver

As you know, the liver plays a vital role in detoxification, metabolism, and protein synthesis. When you sleep, the liver goes into overdrive, processing waste products and toxins accumulated throughout the day. However, the process becomes imbalanced when sleep is disrupted due to sleep apnea.

Here's how sleep apnea might impact your liver health:

Increased oxidative stress

Sleep apnea causes intermittent hypoxia, meaning your blood oxygen levels repeatedly drop. This lack of oxygen increases the production of free radicals that damage cells throughout the body, including liver cells. 

Insulin resistance

Sleep apnea can impair the body's ability to use insulin effectively, causing insulin resistance and leading to fatty liver disease.


Chronic inflammation is a sign of both sleep apnea and liver diseases, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Sleep apnea might worsen inflammation, accelerating liver damage.

Connection Between Sleep Apnea and NAFLD 

NAFLD is a serious medical condition caused by fat building up in the liver cells. It is common in obese people and people with high cholesterol issues. It can cause liver swelling, damage, or, ultimately, liver failure because it has no cure. Apart from this, liver damage is also connected to sleep apnea. Studies show that sleep disorders can worsen liver damage and fatty liver disease.

It has been observed that early stages of NAFLD do not cause any serious harm. However, people with NAFLD can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease. It can cause inflammation in the liver and may cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

In addition to liver disease, the fat in the liver can also increase the risk of serious health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. 

However, if the condition is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, it can stop NAFLD from worsening and reduce the fat in the liver. 

Potential Consequences: From Fatty Liver Disease to Liver Cirrhosis

If you notice signs of sleep apnea like loud snoring, awakening with dry mouth, morning headache, and irritability, you must consult your doctor. If it is left untreated, it can impact your liver can lead to serious consequences:

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)- The most common liver disease globally, NAFLD involves excess fat buildup in the liver. Sleep apnea is a major risk factor for NAFLD.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)- A more severe form of NAFLD, NASH involves inflammation and liver cell damage alongside fat accumulation. Sleep apnea might increase the risk of progression from NAFLD to NASH.
  • Liver fibrosis- Chronic inflammation can lead to scar tissue formation in the liver, known as fibrosis. This can impair liver function.
  • Liver cirrhosis- In severe cases, fibrosis can progress to cirrhosis, a permanent scarring of the liver that significantly reduces its function.

Ways to manage Sleep Apnea and Protecting Your Liver 

The good news is that treating sleep apnea can significantly improve sleep quality and reverse or prevent liver damage. Here are the main approaches:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy

The CPAP uses a mask to send the air pressure that keeps your airway open during sleep. Studies have shown CPAP therapy can improve liver function and reduce the risk of NAFLD progression.

Lifestyle modifications

Losing weight, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can improve sleep apnea and liver health. Try to lose weight, significantly reduce liver fat, and improve insulin sensitivity.

Bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery, also known as weight loss surgery, is used to improve the conditions linked with Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and NAFLD. Bariatric surgery goes beyond weight loss; it alters gut hormones, and the body processes nutrients. These changes can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, both beneficial for NAFLD.

Insulin sensitizer drug to manage sleep apnea and liver health

The insulin sensitizer drug enhances the body's response to insulin, reduces inflammation, lowers blood sugar levels, and thus minimizes the impact of insulin resistance on NAFLD.

Speak to your doctor to discuss if insulin sensitizers could be a beneficial addition to your treatment plan.

Living a Healthy Life: Sleep Well, Protect Your Liver

If you have sleep apnea, getting treatment is crucial for a good night's sleep and your long-term health. Talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment options. 

Remember, a healthy lifestyle is key. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, and exercising regularly can significantly improve sleep apnea and liver health. Prioritize your sleep and make healthy food choices to support your overall well-being. Take care of your liver for a healthy and happy life!

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