You’ve probably noticed a few of your coworkers passing on the bagels in the break room, eating way more avocados, and swearing up and down that the keto diet has changed their lives. Thanks to high profile people like Halle Berry, Kim Kardashian, and Vinny Guadagnino (Jersey Shore’s “Keto Guido”) the low carb high fat ketogenic diet has gained enormous popularity.
Those who prescribe to this diet claim amazing results like weight loss and more energy, but once you jump into this lifestyle change, there may be some complications with your sleep. If you’re prepared for them, you should have no issues.
What is keto?
At its core, the keto diet involves eating foods that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat.
When you eat carbs (no, butter is not a carb, it’s a fat) your body produces glucose and insulin. Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert into energy so your body is going to use that first to run this whole operation. Since you’re using all this glucose it doesn’t need fat so it stores it for a rainy, hungry day.
When you stop eating those carbs, your body enters a state of ketosis. You basically go into survival mode. Your liver begins breaking down that fat your body’s been storing by producing ketones. These ketones are your new energy source, and your body begins adjusting to using fat for fuel.
What are the benefits of keto?
The most popular benefit of the keto diet is weight loss. Because your body is using fat for energy, you’ll obviously drop a few pounds. This lifestyle reduces the amount of insulin you’re producing and turns your body into a fat burning machine.
This reduction in insulin also means your body has better control over your blood sugar. This makes it a very effective diet for those who are pre-diabetic or Type II diabetic.
Many have also found increased mental focus and performance while living that keto life. When your blood sugar isn’t spiking, and your body is working from ketones, your concentration improves.
Help! I can’t sleep on keto!
In the first phase of the keto diet, many people complain of sleepless nights. During the process of introducing new foods at varying amounts, your body is transitioning from burning glucose to burning ketones, and you’re experiencing crazy new levels of energy during the day. All of these changes can keep you up at night, but there are ways to combat this.
Be mindful of your blood sugar
One common reason you’re losing sleep is the change in your insulin spike. As you change your carbohydrate intake, your blood sugar fluctuates in response. Frequent snacking or overeating, especially before bedtime, can cause midnight insulin spikes that will pull you straight out of that dream you’re having about Captain America.
“If you eat a large amount of food too close to bedtime, then your body is busy digesting. This makes it harder to rest and sleep,” says Tracy Owens, Registered Dietitian and founder of Triangle Nutrition Therapy. If you’re winding down, let your digestion do the same. Having too much food in your system can cause heartburn, acid reflux, or just plain discomfort.
If you eat a large amount of food too close to bedtime, then your body is busy digesting. This makes it harder to rest and fall asleep.
This doesn’t mean a snack before bedtime is totally off limits. Something easy and light can calm hunger without interrupting sleep.
A quick fix for this problem is to sip on a little apple cider vinegar with water before bed. This should help balance blood sugar, but not too much or you’ll need a late night bathroom run.
Vary up your veggies
One common cause of sleepless nights could be the specific foods in your new diet. There’s no denying vegetables are important for a well-balanced diet, but the wrong ones could sit in your stomach a little too long. This can create an uncomfortable, gassy feeling leaving you tossing and turning. Either eat them earlier in the day, or try a few new ones. Cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale are often the gassy culprits. Just have them for lunch instead.
Get your minerals in
Molly Devine, RD LDN Founder of Eat Your Keto and advisor to KetoLogic, recommends a few supplements to help restlessness. “I supplement my patients with essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium and increase overall water intake to prevent dehydration,” says Molly.
I supplement my patients with essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Potassium helps balance electrolytes and calm your nervous system. Magnesium, on the other hand, calms the parasympathetic nervous system – the system in charge of getting you relaxed. (We like this system!) If you’re not into taking supplements, you can add these naturally into your diet. Potassium can be found in bananas while magnesium is in foods like spinach, fish, nuts, dark chocolate, and pumpkin seeds.
Add melatonin to your diet
“Melatonin is key,” says Tracy. “It is the hormone whose function is to calm and relax you.” Your keto diet is likely not hindering your melatonin production, but a slight boost could help you during this initial transition. Like magnesium, there are foods that directly contain melatonin. “Tart cherry juice has the highest concentration of melatonin out there,” says Tracy. Adding just 8 oz. to your morning and evening could improve your overall sleep.
There is sleep at the end of the tunnel
According to Molly, these midnight sleep interruptions won’t last forever. “Some people that have very high levels of sugar and carb intake prior to starting a ketogenic way of eating may find the transition stage takes longer, but most are feeling better and sleeping very well by 2-4 weeks into the program.“
People that have very high levels of sugar and carb intake prior to starting a ketogenic way of eating may find the transition page takes longer, but most are feeling better and sleeping very well by 2-4 weeks into the program.
In fact, on a successfully monitored keto diet, you should actually experience healthier rest. “A ketogenic diet eliminates spikes in insulin and large fluctuations in blood glucose, thus allowing for a more restful night sleep,” says Molly.
“Additionally, by cutting out sugars and refined carbs, we reduce inflammation throughout the body, so those that suffer from joint pain or migraines find these symptoms are reduced, allowing for more peaceful and sound sleep.”
As you continue to seek out the healthiest decisions during your day, remember that healthy decisions for your night are just as important. Whether you’re trying keto or any other diet or lifestyle change, if it’s interrupting your sleep, consider making adjustments. No matter how many avocados you eat, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not healthy. (No disrespect to avocados of every type – especially guac.)