Keto insomnia is considered one of the biggest threats to people looking for a transition to a low-carb diet.
Switching to a healthier lifestyle is sometimes considered one of the best remedies for curing your sleeping schedule and/or insomnia.
For the most part this is right, but it is also a fact that for a number of reasons, keto seems to give people insomnia.
This perhaps is due to the drastic change of macronutrient ratios, but we will dive into the root cause in a bit.
Now, there are many people that simply go way too aggressive on the keto diet and in the early stages, also known as the “adaptation period”, they experience keto insomnia.
Needless to say, this is not really pleasant, which is exactly why we have dedicated an article to this specific topic.
Before we move on to the analysis of this issue and how to deal with it, we will just mention that if you’ve had a couple of nights of bad sleep and are now discouraged, worry not.
There are actionable steps you can take to improve the symptoms of keto insomnia and hence, the quality of your sleep.
Now let’s dive into this topic.
Keto & Sleep
As you should be familiar with this by now, the ketogenic diet implies a decrease in carbohydrates and increase in fats.
This of course changes the priority of energy substances used by the body to release energy for physical and mental processes.
We go from glycogen/glucose, which are the end product of carb metabolism, to fat, which produce ketones in the liver.
Now, we need to mention here that keto is a type of medical diet, used to treat conditions like diabetes and epilepsy.
As we mentioned earlier, the ketogenic diet might turn out to be one of the more sustainable options when it comes to choosing a diet type.
However, it may just lead to unpleasant and unwanted side effects like keto insomnia.
This is due to the fact that the depletion of carbohydrates and glucose interacts with brain hormones that regulate sleep.
That is namely one hormone that has been studied – Adenosine
Essentially, during the day, the brain secretes more adenosine and serotonin, while at night time, adenosine levels are low and melatonin levels go up.
Melatonin is also a hormone that regulates sleep
Now to understand this in detail, let’s look at the sleep cycles.
Our sleep has basically 5 phases, each of which is about 90 minutes in duration.
We go through a couple of cycles through all 5 phases, each night that we sleep.
1. Phase 1
During phase one, the brain activity slows down and we start going from beta brainwaves to alpha brainwaves.
In this state, we are slowly drifting away. This is during the first 5 and 10 minutes of sleep.
2. Phase 2
During phase two, our muscles relax and the vital parameters like body temperature and pulse, slow down.
This is essentially the body’s preparation to go into full deep sleep.
3. Phases 3 & 4
During these two phases, the brain activity further slows down into delta brainwaves and we enter the so-called “Restorative sleep” .
These two phases are mandatory when it comes to optimal recovery after training.
During phases 3 and 4, we recover damaged tissues, such as the muscle fibers which we microfracture during workouts.
4. Phase 5
During phase number 5, we have our most vivid dreams.
It is called Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, because the eyes are obviously, rapidly moving.
On top of that, people tend to breathe more intensely and furthermore, the whole musculature is paralyzed.
As mentioned, we go through all phases in a couple of cycles.
The thing with REM is that its duration is progressively stacking, starting off at about 10-15 minutes.
Facts about Keto Insomnia
Ever since fight club came out, we have acknowledged that having insomnia is one of the worst things that can happen to you.
Now, it may be due to other factors, such as stress levels, but if you have that in check, then odds are it is something about your diet.
Many people report keto insomnia in the beginning of their keto transition, making this issue common.
However, those are the same people that report improvements after the first 10 days and of course, reaping benefits of the lifestyle change.
Keto causes that mainly because the body is shocked by the sudden depletion of the energy it is conditioned to – Carbs.
That leads to an array of physiological changes that interfere with the secretion of melatonin and serotonin.
Those two, as we mentioned, are the main night/day time neurotransmitters and regulators.
Along with the difficulty to metabolize the more caloric fat (9 calories per gram, compared to carbs which are 4 calories), you might kick your body into difficulties.
Those include all symptoms of insomnia, such as difficulty falling into healthy, deep, restorative sleep.
Now let’s see the different factors that come along with the keto lifestyle
Causes of Keto Insomnia
1. Fat Flu
The fat flu, also known as keto flu is a chain of symptoms that describe the early adaptation period of a keto transition.
It is called a flu basically because the feeling of those symptoms is just like the symptoms of a flu.
Now, even though it sounds bad, it actually isn’t, as the flu goes away as soon as the adaptation phase passes.
2. Excessive Levels of Energy
Due to the increased fat intake on a ketogenic diet, odds are that even at night time, we will have a LOT of energy.
It is normal to feel like doing something if you consume a good amount of fat and protein at dinner.
What you can do to bypass this, is simply avoid eating shortly before sleep.
Allow your dinner to digest well, giving it 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.
3. Micronutrient Deficiencies
In previous articles we’ve mentioned that the lack of electrolytes and vitamins is the main thing to blame for many of the initial side effects of keto.
We need to remember that glycogen stores water (3 grams of water per 1 gram of carbs).
This means that we will lose a lot of water and micronutrients along with the depletion of carbs (glycogen).
With a lack of micronutrients like magnesium and potassium, a bunch of physiological processes decline in function.
This may not be lethal but it can certainly cause insomnia and decrease the quality of sleep.
4. Combining Approaches
Many people who go for the ketogenic diet also apply intermittent fasting as a tool in their nutrition plan.
While that may be good when done correctly, most individuals tend to make drastic changes.
And so, when they jump from reckless eating to having a 4-hour eating window where all they can eat is protein and fats… You know what happens.
We need to make sure that we introduce the changes slowly if we are new to intermittent fasting and keto.
This means – Slowly decreasing carbs and eating window duration.
How to Treat Keto Insomnia
Okay we now got down to analyze this problem and we know some of the common causes.
We can proceed to connecting the dots and figuring out the possible solutions to this issue.
1. Get in Some Micronutrients
We can’t stress this enough. Many people think it is all about the protein, carbs and fats.
Well, yes, those 3 macronutrients have a caloric value and micronutrients don’t.
But even though the micronutrients are tiny and have no caloric value, they certainly do serve important functions in the body.
The first and most basic step is adding some salt to your meals without doing it.
We can get other micronutrients from some foods, but with the keto diet, we are limited on those.
Our recommendation is to supplement with micronutrient products, that will give you the needed amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium and other minerals and vitamins.
2. Fix Your Habits
We’ve all done it – Binging on chips or ice cream late at night.
That certainly is an instant gratification, but it can also worsen the sleep quality.
This is exactly why we need to resort to more sustainable eating habits, that don’t involve binge eating late at night and right before sleep.
3. Set & Setting
The thing is, ketosis isn’t the main cause of insomnia, as there may be a variety of other factors to consider.
It is about those last few hours before sleep where you set your mindset & environment.
Whatever problems you may have, don’t let them consume your sleep, because ultimately, you will need it, in order to be fresh mentally and take care of the issues
Furthermore, make your environment comfy and sleep-friendly, whether that would mean playing some soothing jazz, or lighting a smelly candle.
4. Computer Screens
Another factor to consider is the blue light emitted by electronic devices, such as computers, laptops and smartphones.
This light interferes with the production of the night time neurotransmitter, called melatonin.
Melatonin regulates sleep and if it is interfered with, that will logically take you out of the natural patterns.
The solution is simple – Avoid any monitors at least an hour before bed.
5. Make a Pre-bed Routine
Some things take preparation, especially if they are hard to do, as falling asleep is, in this specific case.
Once you know you are away from any devices and the internet, it is logical to do something with that hour before bed.
For many people that is different. For me personally, it would consist of listening to some soothing music, drinking a warm tea and maybe taking a shower before doing those two.
This will help the body start secreting more melatonin and get you in that relaxed frame of mind.
Before you know it, you will be in the deep, restorative sleep.
6. Avoid Exercising Late
For some people training at night is one of the only options, due to schedules and school for example.
However, if not excessively intense, exercise will actually boost your energy levels and make you feel lively.
This is exactly why we have to avoid training shortly before bed.
Generally, according to the natural human patterns, also known as the Circadian rhythm, the central nervous system is most active around 4-5 pm.
This is the perfect time to train, in case you have the chance to do so.
7. Avoid Going to Bed Too Late
This one might be obvious, but going to bed an hour or two before the sunrise always results in low-quality sleep.
Having a consistent sleeping schedule, with which you go to sleep relatively early (11 pm ~ 1 am), will allow your brain to fine-tune its biological clock.
Keto insomnia is a common problem among people who are just transitioning to the low-carb lifestyle.
There are many factors that can account for the occurrence of this issue.
Among them are the lack of certain electrolytes, but also other misc. factors that have nothing to do with keto itself.
Keto in the beginning might give us flu-like symptoms, but if you continuously experience insomnia, then you should analyze your sleeping and eating habits, as well as screen time and sleeping environment.
Ultimately, if it is a classic case of keto insomnia, it will pass shortly after the adaptation period is over.