Chances are, you’ve heard of the ketogenic diet- more commonly known as simply “keto”. It is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet plan. Carbohydrates from all sources- including fruits, veggies, and whole grains- are restricted on the keto diet. This significantly diminishes glucose in the body- which is the body’s primary source of energy. if there’s not enough glucose available, your body begins to break down fat into ketones to create energy.
This diet plan was developed originally- and often recommended- as a treatment for controlling epileptic seizures. However, in recent years, the keto diet has become a popular way to lose weight, as well as manage health conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, PCOS, and other conditions. That being said, the keto diet is high in fat, so it’s a bit controversial and the long-term effects have not been studied very closely.
According to the experts, diets that are high in fat- especially saturated fat- has both short-and long-term consequences, such as cardiovascular disease. It’s important to understand that the keto diet is much different from the general, healthy eating habits recommended in the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In this article, we’ll explain how your sleep patterns are related to your diet, how keto can cause insomnia, and what you can do to counteract it.
How is Diet Related to Sleep?
Researchers are becoming more and more interested in how diet is related to sleep. One study in 2021 indicated that those who have a healthy diet sleep better than those who eat mostly highly-processed foods that were high in sugars. This indicates that certain foods and eating habits may improve sleep quality, while unhealthy habits may make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Causes of Keto Insomnia
In 2020, a study on the relationship between diet and sleep made the connection between a high-carb diet and foods containing melatonin, phytonutrients, and tryptophan to better sleep. The reason this occurs isn’t clear, but researchers do believe that these foods may support the production of melatonin and serotonin, which are hormones that your body produces to regulate sleep. It is believed that a low-carb diet may cause insomnia because the production of these chemicals is disrupted.
Another common issue related to the keto diet is the “keto flu”, which is a cluster of symptoms similar to the flu. These symptoms typically include dizziness, fatigue, “brain fog”, headaches, irregular heartbeat, decreased energy, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and faintness. Most people agree that these symptoms typically last for up to a week and clear up. These symptoms could contribute to insomnia.
When you first stop eating carbs, your body will begin to use up the glycogen- or stored glucose- as an energy source. Since glycogen binds up water, it will cause your body to shed excess water. Along with this water loss, you lose electrolytes, such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium- which causes an electrolyte imbalance.
Your body requires electrolytes for all cellular functions. Therefore, you might want to consider adding foods high in magnesium and potassium to your diet, such as seeds, avocado, leafy greens, salmon, and edamame.
When you consume carbs, they are broken down into glucose in your body. Your body and brain then use the glucose as a source of energy.
When your body senses that your glucose stores are getting low, several mechanisms are triggered, letting you know that you need more glucose. This may present as intense cravings for foods that are high in carbs, especially those that are packed with sugar that can quickly release glucose into your system. This causes you to feel sluggish, weak, and low on energy until your body gets used to using fat for fuel instead of depending on glucose stores.
Any time you change your eating habits, you’re bound to experience digestive complications. Many times, when people begin a keto diet plan, they experience digestive issues, including gastric reflux, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and constipation. In addition, by cutting out or limiting your consumption of fruits, veggies, and whole grains may impact your gut microbiome, which can worsen gastrointestinal issues.
As mentioned, any time there is a drastic change to your eating habits, your gut will need some time to adjust- which can take several days or even weeks.
Of course, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and not everyone that switches to a keto diet plan will experience keto insomnia. That being said, if you are one of those that does, there are some things you can do to potentially help with managing your symptoms and discomfort.
Meet Your Nutritional Needs
First of all, experts recommend that when you begin the keto diet, approximately 75% of your calories need to come from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs. Some people may find that it’s difficult to meet their personal nutrient needs due to the limited carbohydrates. Many people severely limit or even completely cut out fruits, veggies, and whole grains. However, your body needs these because they contain essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
One way you can meet your nutritional needs while on the keto diet is by adding a fiber supplement or choosing healthy, fiber-rich, non-starchy carbs and healthy plant-based fats.
Get Physically Active
According to experts, physical activity is associated with a lot of benefits, including improved sleep. Any amount, type, and intensity of physical activity can improve your sleep. When you exercise during the day, it’s easier to fall asleep at night, your stress and anxiety are reduced, and your sleep quality is increased.
Find Ways to Relax
Take some time to discover some ways that you can unwind. This may include activities such as taking a hot shower, listening to music, reading, practicing yoga, or any other activity that you find relaxing. This should be something that lowers your heart rate, reduces tension in your body, and calms your mind.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
By practicing good sleep hygiene, you promote restful sleep. These practices include:
- Having a consistent bedtime routine and waking routine
- Making your bedroom relaxing, dark, and quiet
- Removing electronics from your room
- Avoiding alcohol, large meals, and caffeine close to bedtime
The keto diet is very popular, but also very controversial. Many experts claim that this diet offers a variety of health benefits for treating a variety of conditions. It is known to be low in carbs, high in fat, and moderate when it comes to protein.
When transitioning to the keto diet, some people experience insomnia due to the “keto-flu”, carb withdrawal, electrolyte imbalance, and digestive issues. That being said, not everyone will experience these problems because not everyone is the same. If you do experience any of these issues, there are some things you can do to counteract them.
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