Have you suddenly developed keto insomnia after going low carb?
Are you tired of not being able to fall or stay asleep like you used to?
Although you may think you can run on five or six hours of sleep, the short- and long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation are not cute.
A lack of sleep could also be the reason you’re not losing as much weight as you could be.
So what causes this crummy side effect and is there a keto insomnia cure?
That’s what you’re going to find out in today’s guide as we explore:
Let’s begin by understanding how your snooze time can be affected by your diet– and why keto may be altering your sleep quality.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says only one in three Americans clocks more than seven hours of sleep regularly[*].
And since most people need around eight hours of sleep each night, that means 75% of us are desperately sleep deprived.
Not getting enough sleep has been correlated with an increased risk for:
According to one study, when participants were limited to just four hours of sleep, the following day they experienced[*]:
- Increased hunger drive
- 24% jump in calorie intake
- Increased ghrelin levels (the hormone that triggers your appetite)
- Decreased leptin levels (the hormone responsible for appetite control)
With higher ghrelin levels, you’ll constantly feel hungry throughout the day. With lower leptin levels, you’ll tend to overeat since this hormone tells you when to put down your fork.
One paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that when you don’t get enough zzzs, you also tend to snack more, thus eating more calories during the day[*].
Another study shows the difference between a good night of sleep and a poor one:
Participants eating the same amount of calories were split into two groups: one was allowed 8.5 hours of sleep while the other group only slept 5.5 hours.
Researchers noticed the group sleeping fewer hours was[*]:
- Hungry more often
- Likelier to store the fat they ate instead of use or burn it
- 55% less likely to see fat loss
- 60% more likely to lose weight from lean body mass (aka muscle)
So even if you’re trucking along on your keto diet plan and exercising right, you could be losing muscle instead of pudgy fat if you’re not sleeping enough.
Let’s get to the bottom of why you may be spending more time counting sheep than slumbering.
Though many new to the ketogenic diet report trouble sleeping, there’s no definite answer for why that is.
Here’s what we know so far:
Insomnia is the inability to fall or stay asleep.
Let’s get a few other key terms out of the way while you’re here:
- Sleep-onset latency (SOL) is how long it takes you to fall asleep at night.
- Sleep duration is how long you sleep per night.
- Sleep efficiency is how well you actually slept based on your sleep quality.
Your sleep quality can be characterized by times of[*]:
- Slow wave sleep (SWS), which is deep and restorative.
- Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when your brain works on storing and filing away memories.
Poor sleep is generally defined as low sleep efficiency and high SOL (anywhere from 30+ minutes).
There are several reasons for sleep problems which aren’t diet-related, including:
- Stress, anxiety and depression
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Hormonal changes or conditions
- Certain illnesses
- Sleep apnea
- Caffeine and other stimulants
You may be able to get a handle on your sleep issues if you can manage these causes with medical advice from your doctor.
But if you can’t, it may be time to explore the ketogenic diet and insomnia connection.
See if you can identify with a few possible explanations for your keto insomnia, which may include:
#1: Suffering from the Keto Flu
The most common reason people have trouble sleeping when they switch to a ketogenic diet is the dreaded keto flu.
It happens when you give carbs the cold shoulder and switch to fat as your body’s main energy source.
Keto flu symptoms include:
- Stomach aches or pains
- Brain fog
- Dizziness or confusion
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Muscle cramping or soreness
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Sugar cravings
- Heart palpitations
Just like the regular flu, keto flu may start and end within 24–72-hours.
So there’s hope your insomnia will subside (along with your other keto flu symptoms) the closer you get to ketosis.
The next reason for your sleeplessness may be due to having fewer dietary carbohydrates and comfort foods on keto.
#2: Your Body Is Adjusting To Your New Keto Macros
Recent research finds the higher amounts of protein and fat you eat on a keto diet combined with your reduction of carbs can temporarily affect your sleep while your body adjusts to this new way of eating.
Turns out, your body has to adapt to metabolizing the macros of a keto diet, and this adaptation can influence your sleep patterns.
In one study, non-obese, good sleepers starting a keto diet had a reduced REM sleep in the short-term[*], while another study found those on a keto diet were more active during early sleep stages 1 and 2[*].
The reduced REM sleep and sleep alterations you may experience when you start eating keto can contribute to your insomnia[*].
#3: You’re Bursting with Extra Energy from Fat
How could high energy be a bad thing?
- Wide awake at bedtime
- Up in the middle of the night and feeling refreshed
- Waking up earlier than your alarm in the AM
While these scenarios may sound awesome for the first few days or even weeks of your high-fat diet, chronically missing an hour or two of sleep here and there still increases your chances of health problems and weight gain.
And if fat loss is your goal and you’re practicing IF, that may also be a temporary problem.
#4: Intermittent Fasting May Be Increasing Your Stress
When you practice intermittent fasting (IF), you’re basically pushing your body into glucose starvation mode. This helps you burn through your extra glycogen reserves and speed up ketone production.
However, IF can raise the stress hormone cortisol in women and those especially sensitive to drastic dietary changes like someone who switches from the Standard American Diet to a keto one.
Higher levels of cortisol mean you’ll be feeling extra anxious and on edge, which makes restful slumber pretty impossible.
It’s also incredibly difficult to stay asleep if your diet causes so many late night pee breaks.
#5. Depleting Glycogen Stores And Releasing Water
While you’re making your way into nutritional ketosis, your body will be burning through your glycogen reserves. Each gram of glycogen has three to four grams of water attached to it[*].
Your body will be releasing that water via urination as it works through your glycogen stores.
Depending on how full your glycogen tanks are, you may be waking up to visit the bathroom more often than usual and that will definitely ruin your night’s sleep.
Nocturia, the official name for having to pee in the middle of your beauty rest, is a common complaint from people during keto — and it gets worse as you get older.
According to one study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, older adults who wake up frequently to urinate at night also[*]:
- Have a harder time getting back to sleep
- Suffer overall poor sleep quality
- Feel less rested the following day
Fortunately, as soon as you burn through your glycogen reserves and release all that water, this problem with practically disappear.
Releasing all that water from your body also has the potential to mess up your electrolyte balance.
#6. An Electrolyte Imbalance
When you’re low on magnesium, an important mineral and electrolyte, you may be a little more stressed and anxious than usual. This can also keep you from falling asleep fast.
Plus, when you’re not getting enough magnesium you’re prone to muscle cramps and charley horses that wake you up mid-slumber. Ouch!
So how long does keto insomnia last?
Before you speak to your doctor about sleeping pills, just know most sleep problems go away for the majority of people on a ketogenic diet.
And with the help of a few of these sleep hacks, it may go away sooner than later.
If you’ve always been a sound sleeper and quick to hit the hay, you’ll get there again soon if you just hang in there.
In fact, you’ll start to sleep better than you did pre-keto life.
Patience not your strong suit?
Try one of these 10 tips for keto better sleep:
#1: Stop Eating So Late
Don’t eat anything four hours before bedtime.
This gives you enough time to work off the energy from your last meal before bed, while also providing enough fuel that you don’t wake up starving in the middle of the night.
#2: Get Your Electrolytes Right
It’s mission critical to watch your electrolytes before and during ketosis.
Specifically for better sleep, you can take a magnesium glycinate supplement to:
- Reduce insomnia
- Improve sleep quality
- Act as a natural muscle relaxer to ward off leg cramps and charley horses in the middle of the night
You’ll also find magnesium in Epsom salts, which can be absorbed in your skin during a relaxing night time bath soak. Add a few drops of calming essential oils like lavender or chamomile and you’ll be on a cloud to better sleep in no time.
If you’re just starting the keto diet, chances are your electrolytes need balance. Take a high-quality electrolyte supplement to reduce any side effects of low electrolytes, including insomnia.
Check out this guide on keto electrolytes for more help on this important topic.
#3: Dim The Lights and Control Blue Light Before Bedtime
Your body follows the natural circadian rhythms of sunrise and sunset to regulate your wakefulness and sleepiness. Darkness lowers cortisol levels and increases melatonin whereas bright lights do the opposite.
So to get your body sleepy, try mimicking sunset by keeping the lights in your house on a dimmer switch and turning them down in the PM hours.
Don’t forget about the blue light emitted from your cell phone, laptop, TV and other device screens. This light not only raises cortisol levels, it interferes with the way melatonin is produced so it takes you longer to feel tired and fall asleep.
- Downloading an app like f.lux for your devices, which automatically reduces blue light after sunset if you must use a screen at this time.
- Getting blue light blocking glasses
- Getting dimmable light bulbs
#4: Make Sure The Room Is Cool But Your Hands And Feet Stay Warm
The room where you’ll be sleeping should be cool and dark but your extremities should be warm.
Researchers noticed when your hands and feet are warmer than your core, your body begins the sleep process faster than if you were actually physically tired[*].
#5: Exercise Earlier In The Day
A hard workout after a stressful day is all well and good, but try to keep your exercise earlier than 7 pm. Since exercise wakes up your entire body, you’re going to have a harder time calming down for bed if you work out late.
And if you’re not exercising long or hard enough, that may also be a problem for your sleep.
With all your boundless keto energy, you need to burn off your excess by working out between 20–30 minutes at least three times a week.
Do this and you’ll not only hit the hay faster and stay asleep longer because your body will be more tired, you’ll also lose more weight.
#6: Practice Meditation Or Yoga Before Bed
On the other hand, light, gentle exercises like yoga can help your body ease into sleepiness, unwind and clear your headspace for dreamland.
There are even yoga routines, poses and stretches specifically designed for bedtime like this one.
#7: Slowly Ease Into Your Carb Macros
Ladies and those who have trouble sleeping already may want to consider slowly decreasing their carbs instead of starting at the 25g limit on day one.
Trim your diet by 50g of carbs per day until you reach the 25g net carb average for ketosis and your body will have an easier time adjusting.
#8: Eat Your Carbs Later In The Day
Studies suggest eating your carbs four hours before you go to sleep may be better than having a lower carb meal in the same time frame[*]. This gives you ample time to use that energy while also increasing serotonin production to help you fall asleep sooner.
#9: Watch The Caffeine
Did you know caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to six hours after you consume it[*]? Research now confirms that taking caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime will disrupt your sleep.
Cap your caffeine intake to morning and early afternoon hours only. You can switch to green or herbal teas later in the day.
#10: Try Adding More Carbs
Finally, as a last resort after trying all the other sleep tips on this list, adding a small amount of carbs (think: 5–10 grams per day) back in your diet may be the secret to more snooze time.
This extra glucose may stabilize your cortisol levels and also help with serotonin production. But always be careful when adding more carbs — otherwise you can get kicked out of ketosis.
Time to Get More ZZZs
Research shows increasing your sleep time by just one hour more can help you make healthier food choices the next day[*].
So try one or all of these tips for better sleep and you’ll successfully reach your eight-hour goal and get healthier overall.
After all, if you’re putting in the hard work of sticking to the ketogenic diet, you owe it to your body to also tuck in for an early night of restorative sleep too.
Who knows? You could wake up a few pounds lighter — or at least find your way out of a weight loss plateau.
And the longer you stay in keto and follow these tips, your keto insomnia will disappear like the sheep you count before snooze time. #DreamComeTrue
Lauren Ciccarelli is a writer and former carb addict. Since going keto, she not only lost 35+ pounds and banished her PCOS symptoms, she also found more energy to be awesome and less distaste for lifting weights. Say hi to her on Twitter @ciccarelli.