If you’ve been researching the keto diet recently you might have come across the term “keto insomnia”. When starting the keto diet it isn’t uncommon for you to have a hard time falling and staying asleep. There’s more to keto insomnia that meets the eye. The following guide will help answer your questions regarding sleep and the keto diet.
Does keto cause insomnia?
Yes and no. In the short term, anyone that’s just begun a keto diet might experience sleep disruptions. These sleep problems tend to go away after your body becomes used to the changes in your food and how it needs to fuel your energy. However, there are signs that following a keto diet for a longer period of time might actually improve the quality of your sleep.
Short term effects of keto on sleep
When you begin the keto diet you might experience something that’s known as the keto flu. This causes flu-like symptoms such as muscle pain, headaches, brain fog, drowsiness, nausea and, of course, insomnia. The keto flu is caused by your body being forced to adapt to a low carb diet. It can be a big shock to your system and many people report side effects that last 2-4 weeks. The good news is the keto flu will go away, and along with it, your insomnia.
While your body is adjusting to burning ketones as opposed to glucose you might find that you get less REM sleep. This can contribute to feeling less rested when you wake up because REM sleep is essential for getting a night of good quality sleep. You might also have a harder time falling asleep because all of a sudden you’re bursting with energy! You might find yourself awake long after you usually go to bed.
When you eat a keto diet you might find yourself lacking in magnesium. This nutrient is an electrolyte that is essential for lowering your stress and getting a good night’s sleep. A lack of magnesium can contribute to keto insomnia. You might also have low levels of an amino acid called L-tryptophan. This amino acid is responsible for melatonin production and helps you fall asleep faster. A lot of grains and carb-rich foods contain L-tryptophan so you may not be getting enough on the keto diet.
Long term effects of keto on sleep
Even though keto produces sleep disturbances in the short term, over the long run it seems to actually improve your sleep. There’s still plenty of research to be done and there haven’t been any real studies on keto and sleep; however, there is anecdotal evidence that suggests sticking to a keto diet might improve your sleep.
The reason for this is people who have been on a keto diet for a while tend to spend more time in REM sleep. This improves their overall sleep quality. They also report spending less time falling asleep at night. A keto diet makes you more active during the day because you have more energy. This means that you’re more likely to exercise and less likely to get the slumps in energy that were caused by a drop in blood sugar when your body burns through its carbohydrates. Added exercise is always good for sleep so this will help as well.
There’s a brain chemical called adenosine that your body produces that builds as the day progresses. This chemical helps your body recognize that it needs to slow down at night time so that you can fall asleep. A keto diet appears to increase the amount of adenosine in your body so that it becomes easier for you to fall asleep.
How do you overcome keto insomnia?
Although keto insomnia is short-lived, it can be unpleasant while it lasts and a real obstacle to you sticking with keto. The less sleep you get the harder a time you’ll have avoiding trigger foods, combating cravings and losing weight. Your stress levels will rise and you might decide to abandon keto altogether! In order to prevent this from happening, try the following tips to improve your sleep and increase your chance of success with the keto diet.
Eating late at night forces your body to process the food you’ve consumed. This can keep you up at night as your body has to stay awake enough to digest your food. If you switch to eating your last meal at least 4 hours before you go to sleep then your body will have plenty of time to digest. You’ll also have the time you need to burn off the energy that your food gave you so you’re not going to bed bouncing off the walls.
Focus on electrolytes
One of the side effects of the keto diet is a reduction in the amount of magnesium that your body gets. When the body is low in magnesium, which is an electrolyte, you might experience insomnia, stress and even muscle pain. None of these contribute to a good sleep so add extra electrolytes to your diet if you’re experiencing keto insomnia. You can find these naturally in bone broth, which is full of beneficial amino acids, or you can take a magnesium glycinate supplement.
Limit screens and reduce light prior to bedtime
The blue light that is emitted from your phone, laptop or tablet at night is very stimulating and keeps your brain awake. As night rolls around switch to a nighttime filter over your electronic devices that reduces the blue light you’re exposed to or get rid of the electronics altogether. You should also dim the house lights as you get closer to bedtime to signal to your body that it’s time to begin producing melatonin so that you can sleep.
Wear socks and mitts to bed in a cool room
Sleeping in a cool room is beneficial for getting to sleep faster and improving the quality of your sleep. However, to reap the best rewards from your cool room you should make sure that your hands and feet are kept warmer than your core. The easiest way to do this is to put socks on your feet, leave your body covered by a light blanket and possibly add some mitts or gloves to your hands if you find them getting chilly. It may seem odd, but it just might do the trick.
Exercise in the morning
Exercise is great for treating insomnia; however, it works best if you exercise earlier in the day. When you exercise you actually wake up your body and increase your energy which can be great for combating the fatigue that you get during the early days of keto, but not so great if you do it close to bedtime. Your adrenaline levels raise alongside your endorphins when you exercise so allow at least four hours for these to die down before you go to bed at night.
Ease into your keto
Cutting back to 20g of net carbs a day can be a drastic diet change for most people. The more sudden the change, the greater the side effects. If you want to avoid your risk of getting keto insomnia it’s a good idea to slowly cut back the number of carbs you eat daily over the course of a few weeks until you’ve hit your target of 20g a day.
Stress is the nemesis of sleep. If you’re stressed out you’ll find that your cortisol levels are too high for you to get a good sleep. cortisol can block helpful sleep hormones such as melatonin. In order to lower your stress try some gentle yoga before bed or some meditation. Doing these stress-busting activities right before bed will help ease you into a calm mind so that you can sleep.
Eat your carbs at night
If you’re still experiencing keto insomnia try eating the carbs that you are allowed closer to bedtime. This will allow you to get the greatest dose of the amino acid L-tryptophan before bed when you need it the most. Carb rich foods tend to be higher in L-tryptophan so if you’re going to eat carbs make it later in the day to get the most benefit.
Cut the caffeine
Everyone knows that caffeine and sleep don’t go together. As hard as it may be, try to avoid coffee and tea in the six hours before you go to sleep. So if you go to bed at 9:00 you should make your last drink of coffee no later than 3:00. Caffeine sticks around in your blood system for six hours after you consume it. This may seem difficult at first but as you progress through the keto diet you’ll have more energy throughout the day and you won’t need the coffee that you used to in order to keep you awake in the afternoon.
If you’re new to the keto diet you might experience some short term insomnia. This will go away after a few weeks; however, if you’re looking to reduce the effects of insomnia there’s plenty of things that you can do.