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Five Foods to Reduce HCV-Related Insomnia

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Dealing with Hepatitis C infection is more challenging when you can’t sleep. Before using a pharmaceutical sleep aid, you might want to first try eating one of these five insomnia-easing foods before bed.

At some point or another, most of us have struggled from not getting a good night’s sleep. When such a problem happens regularly, the implications of chronic sleeplessness can be devastating. Whether due to the health of their liver, a side effect of combination therapy or some other reason, over half of all those with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) suffer from sleep problems. Although it may appear to be an overly simplified solution, many people have realized that dietary approaches can help promote a restful slumber.

To address insomnia, physicians often prescribe some kind of sleep aid drug. Although the newer sleep aids are generally non-habit forming, every drug comes with a list of warnings and side effects. As the primary organ that must process drugs, the liver’s burden is increased with every chemical substance ingested. A mainstay of managing chronic HCV is supporting the liver by reducing the quantity of chemicals it must process. Thus, finding natural ways to ease insomnia should always be attempted before someone with chronic Hepatitis C resorts to taking a sleep aid drug.

Sleep is as important to liver health as are a healthy diet and regular exercise. Insomnia effects tend to be cumulative, with chronic insomnia often leading to:

  • severe fatigue
  • cognitive difficulties
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • metabolic disturbances
  • chronic pain disorders

Because sleep rejuvenates the psyche and immune system, it is especially needed to wage the battle against chronic Hepatitis C. Alternatively, long-term sleep deprivation will increase the severity of chronic HCV. According to Alan Franciscus, executive director of the Hepatitis C Support Project in San Francisco, many of the vague symptoms of Hepatitis C – such as fatigue -are also symptoms of not getting enough sleep. Since the two conditions go hand in hand, insomnia can compound symptoms.

When it comes to Hepatitis C, the following could be a culprit for insomnia:

  • Stress or Anxiety – Worrying about health may keep the mind overly active, making relaxation and, therefore, a restful sleep difficult.
  • Interferon Treatment – Insomnia is a common side effect of interferon therapy, the current standard treatment for HCV.
  • Cirrhosis – Those who have an advanced case of Hepatitis C infection may have cirrhosis, the permanent hardening and scarring of the liver. In those with cirrhosis, histamine levels in the brain are often altered. Histamine regulates the sleep-wake cycle, so if levels of this chemical get out of balance, so too can sleep patterns.

Besides taking drugs to help you sleep, there are a variety of approaches to promote slumber. Non-pharmaceutical solutions for insomnia span eliminating caffeine, taking a hot bath in the evening, reducing your bedroom’s temperature, turning off the TV early and setting aside time for unwinding before bed. While all of these factors can help insomnia, diet can also have a profound impact on sleep.

“If you don’t eat right, you lose sleep; and when you’re sleep-deprived, your eating habits suffer,” says Sally Kravich, a holistic nutritionist and author of Vibrant Living: Creating Radiant Health and Longevity (SPK Publications, 2003). “It’s the ultimate catch-22,” she says. “A lack of sleep causes leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, to crash, which causes you to eat more,” she says. “Not only does eating more eventually lead to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity – both of which can affect how well you sleep – but the foods you’re most likely to reach for when you’re tired will keep you up at night.”

In an effort to improve the quality of your sleep, the following five foods show promise:

  1. Whole Grains – High fiber grains (like brown rice, oats and quinoa) keep you full (so you don’t wake up with hunger pangs), contain large amounts of tryptophan (an amino acid that increases the calming neurotransmitter serotonin) and boosts melatonin (a sleep-inducing brain hormone).
  2. Pecans – Pecans help diminish insomnia because they are rich in B vitamins, particularly Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is known to help calm an overactive nervous system. Pecans also contain pyridoxine, which produces serotonin and stimulates the production of melatonin.
  3. Cherries – Instead of just boosting the production of melatonin, cherries are one of the few known food sources that actually contain melatonin. Experts suggest eating a bowl of cherries one hour before bed to help induce sleep.
  4. Bananas – Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have found that potassium may be one of the elements responsible for deep, slow-wave sleep. Their research on fruit flies identified a gene regulating potassium flow as essential for fruit-fly sleep. While a link between potassium and sleep in humans has not been firmly established, foods like bananas, which contain both tryptophan and potassium, may be doubly good for sleep.
  5. Warm Milk – There is sound logic behind this folk remedy for insomnia. Besides containing tryptophan, milk contains calcium, which has a natural calming effect on muscles and the central nervous system. Warming up milk reduces the energy required to digest it, ideal for convincing the body to unwind and do less work.

Not getting enough sleep can have a big impact on one’s quality of life and on the progression of Hepatitis C. To reduce the toxins the liver must process, those with HCV are urged to refrain from taking pharmaceutical drugs whenever possible. If home remedies and lifestyle changes are not helping you get a decent night’s sleep, then a physician’s prescription pad may be necessary. But make sure you give these five foods a chance to alter your body’s chemistry in a way that could have you sleeping through each and every night.

References:, A Review of Sleep Disturbance in Hepatitis C, Sockalingam, Sanjeev MD, FRCPC, et al, Retrieved December 19, 2009, Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, September 2009., Best Foods to Beat Insomnia, Hilary Smith, Retrieved December 19, 2009,, 2009., Five Foods for Better Sleep, Monica Bhide, Natural Solutions Magazine, Retrieved December 19, 2009,, 2009., A Natural Way to Fight Jet Lag, Retrieved December 20, 2009, Cherry Marketing Institute, 2009., How to Cure Insomnia Naturally with Food, The Armchair Herbalist, Retrieved December 19, 2009, eHow, Inc., 2009., Conquering Insomnia, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved December 19, 2009, Natural Wellness, 2009., Managing Hepatitis C, WebMD, LLC, 2009.

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