You already know that the keto diet can help you lose weight. Most probably, you're getting ready to jump in the bandwagon and finally get the dream body that you've always wanted.
But are you aware of the fact that switching to a new diet is not as easy as it seems? Doing keto is not just limiting your food choices. Before you try out this diet, make sure you're well versed in its side effects. For your information, switching to a new diet affects the different functions of your body. This makes the diet a lot more complicated.
For one, are you aware that it can affect your sleeping patterns too? If you want to know the real deal about keto and insomnia, keep on reading!
Can Keto Cause Insomnia?
Yes, studies show that a low carbohydrate diet may cause sleep problems, particularly low sleep quality. (1)
Before you turn your back on your new diet, you should first try to understand its causes, and what you can do about it. Keep on reading to find out!
What is Keto Insomnia?
Simply put, it is insomnia that is brought about by your shift to the keto diet. But what do we mean by insomnia exactly? Most of us define insomnia to be difficulty sleeping. If this is the definition that we'll go for, all of us have been insomniacs at one point or another.
We need to understand what insomnia means to know if there are changes that you need to make. We're going to define the characteristics of insomnia, as stated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
As defined by the DSM-5, Insomnia disorder of primary disorder is characterized by:
The difficulty of falling or staying asleep
Struggling to wake up early without falling back to sleep throughout the day
Sleep problem is not caused by medications or other related illnesses
Impaired ability to properly function or perform daily activities
Sleep issues happen at least 3 nights per week for 3 months or more.
On the other hand, there's also what we call the secondary or acute insomnia. This type of insomnia is short-term and linked to various triggers such as stressful events, life changes, travel, or when you get started on a new diet. (2)
Keto insomnia will fall under this category, and the following symptoms characterize it:
Feeling of drowsiness/ sleepiness many times during the day
Issues with concentration, memory, and focus
When people complain about keto insomnia, they talk about the sleep problems they encounter during the keto-adaptation phase. If you're experiencing sleep issues the first few days or weeks after starting the keto diet, it may be acute insomnia.(3)
For sleep problems that begin when you start on the keto diet and last for a few months or longer after being on keto, it may be acute or chronic. If you can't distinguish what type of insomnia you have, it is advised that you seek medical advice.
Why Can't I Sleep on Keto? Here are the Reasons!
If you have confirmed that your difficulty falling asleep is one of the side effects of the keto diet, you'll surely wonder what causes it. Here are some of the possible causes of ketosis sleep:
The keto flu is one of the dreaded side effects of the keto diet. It is called as such because its symptoms are similar to that of the regular flu. These include:
Digestive system issues (constipation and diarrhea)
Confusion or dizziness
Lack of focus and concentration
All of these symptoms may bring stress and prevent you from getting good sleep quality. The good news is the keto flu goes away in a few days to a week. lasts However, it may last for a few weeks to a month for other individuals. (4)
If the reason behind your keto sleep is the keto flu, there's a high chance that your sleep quality will get better once your body has reached ketosis.
Low Amounts of Carbohydrates
We all know that the keto diet is a low carb diet. Eliminating carbohydrates from our diet is an excellent instrument for weight loss.
However, you should not forget that our body was designed to function using all three macros—carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Cut off one, and it will inevitably result in an imbalance.
The fewer carbs you eat, the less sleep you will have. Why is this so? It all boils down to tryptophan and how it works in the body.
Tryptophan and Sleep
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps to induce sleep. To perform its role, it needs to be converted into Niacin (Vitamin B12). This vitamin plays an essential role in stimulating the release of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that boosts melatonin levels and induces sleep. (5)
The amino acid tryptophan can be found in low-carb food items like nuts and meats. If it comes from low-carb sources, you can easily consume it while on the keto diet, right? So, where does the problem lies?
You see, tryptophan needs to enter to the brain before it can help induce sleep. However, it is only one of the many amino acids that you can find in nuts and meats. All the other amino acids found in these food items compete to get transported inside the brain. Among all of these amino acids, tryptophan will struggle the most because it is the least represented amino acid in such foods.
The Role of Carbohydrates
This is where the problem starts. For tryptophan to quickly enter the brain, carbohydrates are needed. (6)
When you consume carbohydrates, the body will release insulin. This substance will remove all the other amino acids from the blood, leaving tryptophan behind. Since it already eliminated the competition, tryptophan can quickly enter the brain where it can boost serotonin levels and help induce sleep.
Remove the carbohydrates in your diet, and no insulin will be produced. When there's no insulin, tryptophan won't enter your brain, and no serotonin is produced. Without serotonin, it will be difficult for you to get good sleep quality.
Presence of histamines
We're going to get scientific here, but we'll do explain this in the simplest and quickest way possible.
Histamines are a substance found in our hypothalamus, the region of the brain that regulates our circadian rhythms and sleep cycle. Its role is to protect the body from harmful substances, like infections.
To prepare the body for action, it inhibits sleep-promoting neurons. As a result, histamine keeps you awake. If you have high amounts of histamine in your body, falling asleep will be difficult. (7)
What you need to know is histamine is not only produced by the body. You can also get it from the type of foods that you eat. Protein-rich food, especially animal protein sources, contain histidine, a substance that is converted into histamine when it enters the body. (8)
The unfortunate thing is you eat lots of animal proteins when you're on the keto diet. This prevents you from falling asleep.
High Blood Sugar Levels
Since keto is a low carb diet, we expect that our blood sugar levels will drop when we get started on it. However, this is only one side of the story.
The diet is a high fat diet too. In addition to carbohydrates, there's also another substance that you have to watch closely if you want to avoid high blood sugar levels, and that's no other than fats.
While the consumption of fats doesn't raise your blood sugar levels directly, they promote insulin resistance or the phenomenon wherein the cells in the body don't appropriately respond to insulin. (9)
Additionally, fats and protein take longer to digest. As a result, they also have an impact on the timing of spikes of blood sugar levels.
How can sugar imbalance affect our sleep? Too much sugar in your blood can keep you awake and alert, which will prevent you from getting the sleep you need. (10)
As mentioned, you lose lots of water when your body is burning through your glycogen stores. How does your body get rid of water? It is no other than by peeing, of course.
If your glycogen stores are full, there's a chance that you will feel the urge to pee even at night. The frequent bathroom trips at night will keep you from enjoying a good night's sleep.
Studies show that bladder problems can impact your sleep. This is because people who wake up frequently at night go to the bathroom will experience one or all of the following:
Difficulty getting back to sleep.
Poor sleep quality
The feeling of restlessness the next day
The good news is your need to go to the bathroom frequently will diminish once your body is done burning your glycogen stores. However, frequent urination may bring about another issue—electrolyte imbalance. (11)
When you starve your body from sugar, your body will not begin burning fats right away. Instead, it will turn to your glycogen stores—or the glucose stored in your muscles.
As your body burns through your glycogen stores, water will go with it. The flushing of extra fluid is the reason for your immediate weight loss (water weight). However, you'll lose lots of minerals and electrolytes in the process.
Some of the essential electrolytes you will lose are magnesium and potassium. The deficiency of these minerals is linked to poor sleep. (12)
Additionally, magnesium deficiency may cause palpitations and high blood pressure, making you feel anxious and prevent you from being relaxed at night. (13)
The deficiency of these minerals may also bring about various symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and muscle cramps. It can be difficult to sleep properly when you're plagued with such symptoms.
How Long Does Keto Insomnia Last?
To be honest, there's no specific information about how long you may experience this side effect. The good news all of these are just short term.
If waiting is not your cup of tea, you'll be happy to know that there are lots of things that you can do to enjoy better sleep, even if you're on keto. To discover what these are, let's move to the next section!
What Can You Do About Keto Insomnia?
Now that you know the reasons behind your ketogenic insomnia, it will be easier for you to find ways to manage it so you can enjoy sound sleep even if you're on the keto diet.
Here are some things that you can do to achieve that:
Take tryptophan supplements.
To address the tryptophan issue, one of the best solutions would be to take tryptophan supplements.
Studies show that supplementation of L-tryptophan can help you fall asleep faster. However, please note that there are medical experts who are not in favor of taking such supplements because it comes with side effects, including nausea, hives, drowsiness, palpitations, and many others. (14,15)
Because of this, it would be best to consult with your doctor before taking such supplements.
Consume your carbohydrates at night.
Since you can't consume beyond 50 grams of carbohydrates on a keto diet, the next best thing you can do is eat your carbs at the right time.
To maximize the effects of L-tryptophan, you should provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs at night. In this way, your body can produce the right serotonin levels to help you sleep better at night.
Eat histamine-rich foods in the morning and avoid them at night.
Since you have no other choices but to consume histamine-rich foods when you're on keto, the best move you can make is to time it right too.
Since histamine help to keep you alert and awake, you should consume histamine-rich foods in the morning. In this way, you can get the right amount of fats and protein you need without disrupting your sleep cycle.
At night, try to look for keto-friendly and low-histamine foods so you can still get the nutrients you need minus the histamines that prevent you from sleeping better. This means that you should avoid eating canned food and fermented meals at night. (16)
Keep an eye on your electrolytes.
To avoid the sleep issues caused by a mineral deficiency, you need to find ways to balance your electrolyte intake. To be honest, this is not an easy feat, but you can achieve it if you'll be intentional in doing it.
Experts recommend fulfilling your daily requirements through food. With that in mind, you should incorporate keto-friendly foods rich in magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium. This is difficult, but here are some great food ideas that you can choose from:
- Bone broth
- Whole grains
- Raw cacao
If it is tough for you to get the electrolytes you need through your diet, you can take supplements. Increasing sodium and potassium can be possible by adding lite-salt to your dishes.
For magnesium and calcium, the recommended supplements are calcium citrate and magnesium gluconate or glycinate. You must talk with your healthcare provider first before you start taking any supplements.
Speed up the ketosis process.
The faster your body reach ketosis, the faster your body can adapt to your new normal. Once your body has fully adapted to your new diet, all side effects, including insomnia, will diminish.
To ensure that your body will reach ketosis as fast as possible, make sure to stick to the right macros of a keto diet. (17)
That wouldn't be enough to speed up the process, though. That's why it may be a great idea to take keto supplements that contain exogenous ketones, which can help your body reach ketosis as soon as possible.
Set and adhere to strict mealtimes.
Blood sugar imbalance can be properly managed by setting and following strict mealtimes. This means that you should time your meals properly to avoid blood sugar peaks. As a simple guideline, you should eat frequent but small meals.
If possible, try to eat something every 3 to 4 hours. The goal is to space your mealtimes in a way that you will not feel too full after a meal and that you're not too hungry when you go into the next meal.
Ideally, you should eat a few hours after you wake up. You should also avoid eating right before bedtime. Additionally, you should eat a few hours before and after you work out.
Dim your lights and minimize blue light a few hours before bedtime.
Our body regulates our sleep by following our natural circadian rhythms based on the sunrise and sunset.
When it's dark, the levels of melatonin in the body increases. As a result, we feel sleepy. On the other hand, bright lights and blue light (the light from our gadgets) give the opposite effect.
To enjoy good sleep, it is recommended that you dim your light and stop using gadgets come nighttime. If this is not possible, reduce the brightness of your devices after sunset. You can also try wearing glasses that block blue light.
Avoid exercising at night.
As much as possible, schedule your workouts in the morning as doing so offers plenty of benefits. If this schedule is impossible for you, try to work out not later than 7 PM. (18)
This is because exercise wakes you up. If you work out close to bedtime, there's a high chance that you will find it hard to fall asleep. (19)
Does Keto Improve Sleep?
We've just talked about keto insomnia, and now, we're going to talk about whether keto improves sleep or not. We understand how confusing it can be, so let us make it simple for you.
The difficulty of sleeping is one side effect that you will experience with keto short term. If you've been doing keto for months, there's a chance that your new diet can help you sleep better. To put it simply, the keto diet can lead to deeper sleep in the long term. (20)
Get More ZZZs While on Keto
Insomnia is one of the ketogenic diet side effects that is difficult to deal with. Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do to help you sleep better. You owe your body this. After all, you're letting it undergo a major transition. The least that you can do is give it a good night's sleep.
The short-term side effects of keto are challenging. Just soldier on. Put our tips into practice so you can reap the benefits of keto in the long run.