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Sleep is crucial for a long, happy, and healthy life. Sleep deprivation can have a massive impact on all aspects of your mental and physical performance. While you might be able to get by on just a few hours of sleep per night, that doesn’t mean you should. Most adults need 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night, and growing kids and teenagers often need more.
It’s a shame that eating a low-carb diet can result in ketosis insomnia for some people, especially as keto is so good for fat loss and weight control.
Insomnia can be hugely frustrating and stressful. You want to sleep, you know you should sleep, but you can’t. Instead, you just lay there staring at the ceiling, waiting to get up. To make matters worse, you are also burdened with the knowledge that the following day is really going to drag!
The good news is that you don’t have to be tired on keto, and there are several things you can do to re-establish your regular sleeping pattern.
What is insomnia and why is it a problem?
Keto insomnia is a general term for sleep disruption caused by the ketogenic diet. It’s important to state from the outset that the keto diet might not be the sole reason you are unable to sleep; it may be one of several contributing factors. Because of this, in this article, we’ll also discuss some general ways to get a better night’s sleep, as well the sleep issues caused by going keto.
Insomnia means different things to different people. For some, it means not being able to go to sleep. For others, insomnia means waking up during the night. Some people’s insomnia means waking up much earlier than they want.
Insomnia can leave you feeling dazed, tired, and unable to focus and function at your best. It can also have a significant impact on your diet. When you are sleep deprived, you are much more likely to crave carbs, and your willpower will take a dive. This means you are more likely to break your diet and overeat. Because of this, sleep deprivation is strongly linked to weight gain and obesity. Craving sugar? You may be sleep deprived.
Lack of sleep is also linked to a host of diseases. Not getting enough sleep increases your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much cortisol can trigger inflammation and inflammation is a leading cause of illness. From diabetes to heart disease to autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, these diseases and many more are directly linked to stress.
Do you feel short-tempered when you are tired? Sounds like stress to me!
Sleep is crucial for your short-term mental and physical performance, as well as your long-term health. Because of this, keto insomnia is often considered to be the most unwanted keto diet side-effect. But what causes this problem, and how can you fix it? Let’s discuss!
Diet and sleep
The food you eat provides you with more than just energy; it also provides your body with the nutrients you need to function correctly. Substances like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids play a critical role in controlling all of your bodily functions, and that includes sleep. If you aren’t getting the nutrients you need, your ability to sleep may be affected.
For example, foods like nuts and meat contain a substance called tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin which plays a role in regulating your waking and sleeping cycles. Eating too few tryptophan-rich foods could disrupt your sleep although, with keto, these foods are usually consumed in abundance. Eating carbs can make you sleepy too. Carbs consumption is also linked to an increase in serotonin levels.
Many people use (or is that abuse?) alcohol and alcohol can have a sedating effect, leading to sleepiness. Of course, you shouldn’t use alcohol as a sleep aid, but it’s an excellent example of how what you eat and drink can affect your sleep.
On the flip side, stimulants like coffee, tea, and chocolate can wake you up and make sleep much harder to come by. They all contain caffeine which stimulates your central nervous system.
You are what you eat, and what you eat can affect your sleep. Changes to your diet, i.e., switching to keto, can have a knock-on effect to many aspects of your life. It’s hardly surprising that a diet as powerful as keto may impact on your normal sleeping habits. Don’t worry though, this problem is usually easy to fix.
Causes of keto insomnia
Currently, there is no unifying theory on what causes keto insomnia. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s just that there is no conclusive evidence that points at any single culprit. There are a few suspects that may be keeping you up at night.
1. The keto flu
When you first cut carbs from your diet, your body has to go through a phase of adaptation so that it becomes less reliant on carbs and uses more fat and ketones for fuel. This can take a few days to a couple of weeks.
This transition is often accompanied by a range of side-effects and symptoms, collectively called the keto flu. While hardly serious, and definitely not contagious, the keto flu can leave you feeling a little unwell, and that may be enough to keep you awake at night.
Keto flu soon passes. You should find that, as you graduate from your keto induction phase, your sleep pattern returns to normal.
2. The need to pee more often
Pre-keto, your body contains a lot of stored carbohydrate. This is called glycogen. Glycogen is basically glucose bound to water. As your body uses this glycogen, your body releases water, and you’ll have to pee out the excess. Each gram of glycogen contains 3-4 grams of water which means you can expect to pee a lot more than usual as you descend into ketosis.
During your waking hours, you might not notice your increased need to pee. Or, at least, it is not a source of inconvenience. That all changes at night. Regular trips to the bathroom could disrupt your sleep, waking you up several times per night.
The good news is that, once your glycogen stores have been depleted, your frequency and volume of urination will return to normal.
3. Electrolyte imbalance
All that extra peeing means you’ll be losing lots of electrolytes too. Electrolytes are minerals that your body needs and uses for a wide range of functions. Lack of calcium, magnesium, potassium, chlorine, and sodium can disrupt your nervous and muscular systems. You may experience muscle tremors or even cramps as a result. If you’ve never been woken up by cramp, you have dodged a bullet! However, on keto, you may find that cramps wake you up.
Magnesium is also an essential mineral for sleep. It makes you drowsy and helps you relax. Losing your electrolytes means you may be low on magnesium, and that could be what is disrupting your sleep.
4. Cravings and hunger
Significant changes to your diet can affect you mentally and well as physically. All but eliminating carbs from your diet can trigger cravings, and those cravings could keep you awake at night. You might even find yourself dreaming about bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and all those other forbidden foods!
You may also feel hungry. Hunger is a common cause of insomnia. Back when your ancestors were hunter/gatherers, hunger was a good stimulus for getting you up and heading out to find food. It helped our predecessors survive. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know you are eating less on purpose. It makes you hungry to motivate you to search and eat more food. That includes waking you up. Stupid body!
5. You’ve got too much energy!
Too much energy is rarely a bad thing unless it’s keeping you awake of course! With the keto diet, your body gets really good at using fat for energy. Even the leanest person has an abundance of fat to use for fuel. With so much energy available, you may find your body is reticent to shut down for the night.
In a few days, your body will adapt to this extra energy and will get back into the habit of cycling between sleep and wakefulness. Until that happens, prevent making things worse by avoiding MCT oil before bed. MCT oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides which are fats that are easily digested and used for fuel. Consuming MCT oil before bed is like pouring gas on a fire – it’ll only make things worse!
How long does keto insomnia last?
The short answer is too long! Insomnia can be a miserable experience and even a couple of nights of disrupted sleep can undermine your mental and physical performance.
The longer answer is that it’s hard to say how long or even if the keto diet will cause insomnia. Some people sleep like babies throughout their keto induction while other people experience significant sleep disruption for a week or so.
In most cases, sleep returns to normal soon after keto induction, so make sure you do your best to get through that phase as quickly as possible. That means keeping your carb intake to 20-30 grams per day and doing some exercise to deplete your glycogen stores more quickly. You may also wish to use glucose dispersal agents such as chromium picolinate, vanadyl sulfate, alpha linoleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid (ALA and CLA), and cinnamon.
If you do these things, you should transition quickly into ketosis, and keto insomnia should cease to be a problem. If your insomnia lasts longer than a couple of weeks, you may need to address other aspects of your sleep.
How to overcome keto insomnia
If you are unlucky enough to experience keto insomnia, there are several things you can do to stop it ruining your life. If your sleep is disrupted, put the following strategies into action as soon as you can.
1. Don’t eat too late
Food gives you energy, and energy can keep you awake. Avoid this problem by eating earlier and having a couple of hours between your last meal of the day and your bedtime. This will also give your body time to digest the food you have eaten. Going to bed with a stomach full of food can also interfere with sleep.
2. Rebalance your electrolytes
Avoid things like muscle cramps and tremors by rebalancing your electrolytes. Make sure your diet contains plenty of leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other mineral-dense foods. A pre-sleep magnesium supplement may also enhance your sleep. ZMA, a blend of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B, has been proven to be very useful for improving the length and depth of sleep.
3. Eat your carbs in your last meal of the day
While you can’t eat a lot of carbs on the keto diet, you may find that consuming your carb allowance in your last meal of your day will help you sleep. Use a diet app to track your macros so that you know what you can and can’t eat.
4. Reduce your water intake toward the end of your day
Frequent night-time trips to the bathroom will play havoc with your desire to get a good night’s sleep. Avoid this problem by enforcing a water curfew. Avoid drinking too much water after about 6pm. That way, you should have done most of your peeing before you try and sleep. If you must drink after this time, just sip very small amounts of water to control your thirst.
5. Avoid caffeine after 3pm
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can definitely disrupt your sleep. While you may welcome the extra energy that caffeine can provide, abusing things like coffee and diet cola could also interfere with your sleep.
Cut out caffeine from about 3pm. That way, when it’s time to go to bed, you will no longer be under the influence of caffeine and are more likely to feel sleepy.
6. Try a melatonin supplement
Melatonin is a precursor of serotonin and serotonin can help you sleep. Available in supplement form, 2 to 5 grams per night should be enough to help you sleep. Unlike many sleep medications, melatonin is generally considered safe, is non-addictive, and is available without a prescription. You can buy it from health food stores and most pharmacies.
Additional tips and tricks for a better nights’ sleep
While the keto diet can be responsible for disrupted sleep, other causes need to be considered. In many instances, issues with insomnia go beyond your diet, and the root cause is actually your lifestyle.
Here as eight fixes that will increase your chances of getting a good nights’ sleep.
1. Reintroduce bedtime
It’s probably been years since you had a bedtime, but it’s time to bring it back. By making sure you are in bed by a specific time, you are more likely to get all the hours of sleep you need. Decide what time you need to get up, and then make sure you hit the hay eight hours before that. Try to keep your bedtime constant so that your body gets used to going to sleep at the same time each night. And yes, that means weekends too.
2. Lights out!
There is no point going to bed early if you are then going to stay awake watching TV or updating your Facebook status! All that light will mess with your circadian rhythm. Light tells your brain it’s time to wake up while darkness tells you it’s time to sleep. Dim the lights, and you’ll sleep like a baby.
3. Make sure your bedroom is cool, but your hands and feet are warm
Your bedroom should be cool and dark, but your extremities should be comfortably warm. When your hands and feet are warmer than your core, your body relaxes more readily, and you should fall asleep faster, even if you aren’t physically tired.
4. Exercise earlier in the day
All exercise is good exercise, but hitting the gym or going for a run shortly before bedtime could interfere with sleep. Avoid exercising after 7pm to ensure that your workout won’t keep you up at night.
5. Relax before you hit the sack
There is no point trying to sleep if your brain is still running at 100mph. 30 minutes or so before you intend to hit the sack, start winding down and relaxing. Have some chamomile tea, a warm bath or shower, read a book, or spend a few minutes stretching or meditating. Avoid activities that are agitating such as watching the news or playing video games.
6. Buy a decent bed
How much did your car cost? And how much did you pay for your bed? Your car was probably much more expensive. But, which one do you spend more time in? You don’t have to spend a fortune on your bed, but you should pay enough that you end up with a comfortable place to rest your weary head. Use the same mindset for your pillows and bedclothes. Money spent will soon be recouped as your waking hours will be more productive and profitable.
7. Buy a white noise generator
Most people sleep best in a quiet bedroom. Unfortunately, this means that even small noises can be disruptive. Neighbor’s dog barking, creaking floorboards, passing traffic, late-night revelers outside on the street can all keep you awake. Drown out extraneous noise with a white noise generator. White noise generators produce constant but monotonous tones that are easy to ignore but make it hard to hear all those other distracting sounds.
8. No more naps
While a daytime nap might seem like the perfect way to catch up on missed sleep, sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock and make it harder to sleep at night. This makes you even sleepier in the day and more prone to napping. More napping means less night-time sleep – it’s a vicious circle.
Toughen up and power through daytime sleepiness. That way you’re more likely to sleep soundly at night. Get yourself to bed earlier, and you won’t need naps anyway.
Lack of sleep can be very disruptive. The more sleep deprived you are, the more anxious you will probably be, and the harder sleep will be to come by. Miss more than a few night’s sleep and it can be tough to get back into the sleep habit.
With keto insomnia, it is crucial that you try and re-establish your normal sleeping patterns as soon as possible. Don’t let insomnia become your new norm. Use the information on this article to get back on track.
Also, understand that while the keto diet could be responsible for your current insomnia, it’s probably not the only reason you aren’t sleeping very well. Diet is, after all, only one of the factors that influence your sleep.
Sleep can often seem like a luxury that you cannot afford, and you may be tempted to try and get by on less than you need, but that would be a mistake. You might gain a couple of extra hours per day, but those hours won’t be very productive. Lack of mental and physical energy could mean that extra time is wasted. Do not underestimate the importance of sleep. It’s the easiest, most beneficial thing you can do for your health!