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keto sleep issues

Keto Sleep: Common Issues & How to Fix Them

From staying within your daily carb limit, to eating enough high-quality fat foods, to keeping your electrolytes up, there are many important elements of being successful on the ketogenic diet. 

One of the cornerstones of keto is sleep. But many people starting the diet can experience sleep issues including insomnia. 

In this article we’ll go over the importance of sleep on keto and solutions to common keto sleep issues. 

How Poor Sleep Can Sabotage Your Ketogenic Diet

Keto is more than a weight loss diet. When your body is in a state of ketosis, there are a a wide range of benefits that you could experience, including: 

keto diet benefits

It’s clear why this lifestyle has amassed an impressive following, from athletes like Tim Tebow to celebrities like Halle Berry to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of high-achievers. 

Unfortunately, inadequate sleep can negate many of the benefits provided by following a low-carb, high-fat diet. Inadequate or low-quality sleep can cause:

See the connection?

No matter what your reason for being on keto, there’s no doubt that sleep is essential for achieving your goals.

Committed to becoming a fat-burning athlete? Sleep is crucial for adequate recovery, performance, and muscle building.

Love the mental clarity keto gives you? You’re not going to experience any of that when you’re a sleep-deprived zombie.

Trying to lose weight with keto? Inadequate sleep makes you crave fast energy from carbs, raises stress and lowers your willpower (especially around food), and causes insulin resistance. 

Yes, keto has some amazing benefits. But adhering to a strict keto diet while neglecting sleep is like stepping over dollars to pick up pennies.

Want to see success on keto? Start viewing sleep as a pillar of health— something that’s just as important as the food you eat. Make quality sleep your priority and the rest will fall into place.

What Does Quality Sleep Mean?

There’s more to getting a good night’s rest than sleeping for a solid eight hours. Quality is just as important as quantity.

Sleep is more than just being unconscious. When you sleep:

There are different stages of sleep, and the body and brain go through different states throughout these. Deep sleep is the most restorative stage, and during the state known as REM (rapid eye movement), the body is re-energized.

All of the processes that occur during deep and REM sleep have various effects on the body after we wake. The immune system is strengthened, hunger hormones are balanced, and cortisol is regulated to make you feel energized and sleepy at the right times.

But without adequate deep sleep? The immune system is weakened, hunger hormones and appetite are all out of whack, and your cortisol can be high or low at the wrong times of the day.

And in case you need another reason to take sleep seriously, consider that just one night of partial sleep can majorly induce insulin resistance[*]. You can read more about insulin resistance in our blog post.

Tracking Sleep Quality

There are a few ways to monitor how you’re sleeping. The most simple method is to simply keep track of how long you’re sleeping. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is anywhere between seven to nine hours[*].

Pay close attention to how you feel when you wake up. Do you feel refreshed? Is there a noticeable difference between sleeping for seven hours as opposed to nine? Feeling refreshed upon waking is a sign of quality, restorative sleep.

If you want to gain a better insight on sleep quality, there are a few options with varying costs and features. You can get apps for your phone that monitors your sleep for deep and light stages, as well as how much of that time you’re actually asleep for (plus, most of them are free).

Then there are wearables. These vary in price and can give you a lot more data on things like body temperature, heart rate variability, and REM sleep.

How a Keto Diet Can Improve Sleep

Anecdotally, many people report that they’ve never slept better since starting keto. They sleep soundly throughout the night, wake up feeling totally refreshed, and feel completely energized throughout the day. 

A short-term study conducted on 14 men who were already healthy sleepers found that a very low carb diet may promote deep sleep[*]. 

One theory is that this is due to the effects of a low carbohydrate diet can have on sleep. 

Ever heard of ATP? It’s a chemical that the body produces that provides energy to cells. The “A” stands for adenosine which, as it increases in the body throughout the day, actually reduces that daytime energy. 

Several studies have found a connection between a ketogenic diet and an increase in adenosine. A 2009 study analysed much of this emerging evidence in the context of the ketogenic diet’s therapeutic potential[*].

A much simpler reason some people may sleep better on a keto diet is the lack of sugar in their diet. It’s totally possible your pre-keto sleep issues had more to do with the sugary dessert you were eating every night than your lack of ketones.

4 Common Keto Sleep Problems & How to Fix Them

Improved sleep isn’t always the case for everyone who follows a ketogenic diet.

Some people experience sleep problems, especially in the early stages of this lifestyle change. 

Your body is going through some pretty dramatic changes when first switching from burning glucose to burning fat as its main energy source, so it’s expected that you might experience some side effects, like the keto flu, keto rash or even just cravings.

But that doesn’t mean you have to just live with it. To address your sleep issues, you have to identify which specific problems you’re experiencing. Take a look at the list below to see which ones apply to you (and how to address them, of course).

#1: Trouble Falling Asleep

Whether you’re tossing and turning, your mind is racing, or you switch from dead tired to completely wired the minute your head hits the pillow, few things are more frustrating than not being able to fall asleep.

When you’re in ketosis, your body’s energy source is (you guessed it!) ketones. If you’re eating ketone-raising foods like coconut or MCT oil too close to bedtime, the energizing effects may be keeping you up. 

But eating too close to bedtime, energizing or otherwise, can mean your digestive system is a tad too active to be ready for sleep. This is especially relevant if you practice intermittent fasting and finish your eating window close to bedtime.

You may also find success ingesting the majority of your carbs with dinner. This is because carbohydrates increase tryptophan in the brain, which causes sleepiness. That might mean saving some of those higher-carb foods like vegetables or berries for your final meal.

Finally, don’t forget to keep up those electrolytes. Specifically, magnesium. Taking magnesium before bed will relax your muscles and help you drift off to sleep a lot easier.

#2: Waking Up Frequently

Waking up throughout the night is a sign that you’re sleeping lightly, not deeply. This is likely a consequence of stimulants before bed. 

Even the most keto-friendly bulletproof coffee can disrupt sleep thanks to the caffeine content. Keep coffee for mornings only.

Despite being a depressant, alcohol can also have a stimulating effect. That whiskey or keto-friendly red wine you’ve been having as a nightcap? It might not be blowing your carb allowance, but it’s probably preventing you from getting the deep sleep your body needs.

#3: Restless Legs or Muscle Cramps

If you’re suffering restless legs or painful cramps at night, this is a sign that you’re not getting enough electrolytes. 

Electrolyte imbalance is a common side effect of beginning the ketogenic diet. 

This may easily be fixed by supplementing with keto electrolytes. Drink a serving an hour before bed. Bonus: the minerals in electrolytes help you get more restful sleep.

Speaking of electrolytes, the keto flu can often be a culprit in disrupted sleep. There’s a reason every experienced keto-er you know won’t shut up about electrolytes. They’re important.

#4: Nightmares

A study on the keto diet and sleep found a distinct increase in both sleep quality and REM sleep— that’s the sleep stage where we have the most vivid dreams[*]. 

So don’t be surprised if you experience nightmares during particularly stressful periods.

Having nightmares about “breaking” or “cheating on” your keto diet is common. Don’t feel too guilty if you spend all night dreaming about accidentally eating pasta and then freaking out.  We’ve all been there.

Your Sleep Problems May Not Be a Side Effect of Keto

It’s easy to assume diet is the one and only contributing factor to your health problems, but keto isn’t always the culprit. 

Here are a few of the factors that can compromise sleep:

Remember, what you eat is just one part of the bigger picture. Following a ketogenic diet is about achieving optimal health.

Do you want to experience the full benefits a keto diet can offer? Then start thinking about how you can dial in every aspect of your health— not just what you’re putting in your mouth.

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