How the Keto Diet Affects Sleep Quality

The ketogenic diet, known for its profound impact on metabolism and weight management, has garnered significant attention in recent years. Beyond its well-documented effects on weight loss and blood sugar control, emerging research suggests that the keto diet may also play a role in influencing sleep quality. In this discussion, we’ll explore the intricate relationship between the ketogenic diet and sleep quality, examining both potential benefits and challenges that you may experience when following this dietary regimen. But before that, let’s discuss the ketogenic diet.

The Ketogenic Diet: A Brief Overview

The ketogenic diet, also referred to as the “keto” diet, is distinguished by its large fat, moderate protein, and noticeably low carbohydrate consumption profile. [1] The body goes into what is known as ketosis when it follows this nutritional pattern. When the liver is forced to convert fatty acids into chemicals known as ketones — specifically, beta-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone — it means that the body is in ketosis. Next, instead of using glucose as the main energy source, the body and brain turn to these ketones. There are many advantages to entering and staying in ketosis. Beyond the well-known weight loss attributed to elevated fat metabolism, you may also have decreased hunger, more stable blood sugar levels, and more constant energy. Studies also suggest that there may be neuroprotective effects, which could help with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. The diet should be considered by those with type 2 diabetes because it may also have anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitivity-improving effects. However, the depth and variety of benefits can differ from person to person. At the end of the day, it’s important to have guidance and regular consultations with trusted healthcare professionals if you’re considering a significant dietary shift like the keto diet. 

Keto Diet and Sleep Disorders

The ketogenic diet has shown the potential to improve sleep quality for those who are dealing with sleep issues. Steadying blood sugar levels and encouraging ketosis may help to regulate sleep patterns. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the effects of the keto diet can differ from person to person. Therefore, let’s delve into how this diet can help influence sleep quality.

The Role of Carbohydrates in Sleep Regulation

The function of carbohydrates in regulating sleep is a complicated and fascinating area of diet and sleep science. Due to their effect on the synthesis of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation and sleep), carbohydrates have a big impact on how well you sleep. The consumption of carbohydrates leads to an increase in insulin synthesis, which facilitates the transportation of amino acids to the muscles. This mechanism facilitates a more efficient entry of tryptophan (an amino acid that functions as a precursor to serotonin), into the brain.

In addition, the chemicals cortisol and melatonin, which are critical for controlling your sleep-wake cycle, are influenced by the balance that carbohydrates provide. Meals high in carbohydrates have the ability to raise insulin and lower cortisol levels, which can help induce relaxation and make it easier for you to fall asleep.

But there’s more to this link than meets the eye when it comes to carbohydrates and sleep. Eating a large meal that’s rich in carbohydrates just before going to bed might cause indigestion and discomfort, which can interfere with your sleep. Moreover, caloric content is important. Snacks and other foods with a lot of sugar can cause blood sugar to quickly rise and fall, which may cause insomnia.

The effect that low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have on the quality of sleep varies from person to person.When you start a low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, you’ll frequently go through what is known as the “keto flu” at the beginning. During this stage, the body may experience symptoms including fatigue, anger, and trouble falling asleep, which are usually related to the transition to ketosis.

Changes in electrolyte balance could be one cause of this disturbance in sleep patterns. Imbalances may result from the body excreting more salt, potassium, and magnesium when it switches from using carbs to fats for energy. Muscle spasms, agitation, and disturbed sleep patterns could be caused by these imbalances.

Additionally, serotonin and melatonin synthesis, which are essential for regulating sleep, may be momentarily impacted by the adaptation process to ketosis. The body’s adjustment may cause some people to have mood and sleep pattern changes.

It’s crucial to remember that once the body adjusts to the low-carb diet, these initial difficulties frequently disappear. Once you’ve adjusted to the nutritional modifications, you may experience better sleep. This diet can lead to weight loss, stable blood sugar levels, and less sugar-filled food snacking—all of which are beneficial for restful and restorative sleep.

Individual reactions to low-carb diets differ greatly, though. While certain people may see an improvement in their sleep patterns, others might still encounter disturbances or notice no noteworthy shift in the quality of their sleep. Paying attention to how dietary changes impact your sleep and listening to your body are very important. Finding a dietary strategy that meets your specific needs and promotes better sleep might be facilitated by speaking with a qualified dietitian or healthcare practitioner if you frequently experience sleep issues.

The Influence of Micronutrients on Sleep Quality

Micronutrients are just as important in controlling sleep patterns as macronutrients like carbs are. Therefore, the impact of the ketogenic diet on sleep quality goes beyond these factors alone. The following essential micronutrients in the ketogenic diet can have an effect on how well you sleep:

  • Magnesium: Magnesium is well-known for its ability to relax the nervous system and enhance the quality of sleep. [2] Magnesium deficiency can affect a lot of people, including those following a ketogenic diet. Including foods or supplements high in magnesium may help reduce sleep disruptions.
  • Potassium: The ketogenic diet may cause an increase in potassium excretion, which could result in deficits. [3] Sufficient potassium levels are necessary for proper nerve and muscle function, including the relaxing of muscles as you sleep. To encourage sound sleep, make sure you’re getting enough potassium from foods like avocados, leafy greens, and nuts.
  • Calcium: Another mineral that may improve the quality of your sleep is calcium. It contributes to the synthesis of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep. [4] Calcium can be found in dairy products, but it can also be found in keto-friendly foods like almonds, spinach, and canned sardines with bones.
  • B Vitamins: The synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are critical for mood and sleep control, is aided by B Vitamins like B6, B9 (folate), and B12. Inadequate intake of these vitamins may cause insomnia. [5] Lean meats, leafy greens, and eggs are good sources of B Vitamins to include in a ketogenic diet.
  • Vitamin D: Better sleep quality is associated with adequate levels of Vitamin D. [6] Including dairy products and fatty fish, such as salmon, in the diet can help promote better sleep since they are keto-friendly sources of Vitamin D.
  • Zinc: Zinc is necessary for the synthesis of melatonin and the control of sleep cycles. [7] Nuts, red meat, and oysters are all excellent sources of zinc that fit within a ketogenic diet.

The Keto Diet’s Effects on Insulin Sensitivity

There is a complex and interwoven relationship between insulin sensitivity and sleep quality as a result of the ketogenic diet. [8] Reducing carbohydrate intake is the main goal of the ketogenic diet, which over time may result in decreased blood sugar and enhanced insulin sensitivity. Improved insulin sensitivity is especially helpful for people with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance since it makes blood sugar regulation easier.

Blood sugar control is a major factor in the quality of sleep. Insufficient sensitivity to insulin may result in changes in your blood sugar levels during the night, which may cause sleep disorders. High blood sugar levels have been linked to general sleep disruptions and can cause nocturnal awakenings.

Individual differences exist in the effect of the ketogenic diet on sleep quality, though. Some people who have previously struggled with blood sugar-related sleep problems report improved sleep quality while following the diet. Because of the diet’s low carbohydrate content, blood sugar stays steady throughout the day, reducing the chance of unexpected spikes or reductions throughout the night, which can improve sleep.

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to the ketogenic diet, and that variables like electrolyte balance may also have an effect on how well the diet causes sleep. Dietary changes can affect electrolyte levels. Imbalances, like low potassium or magnesium, can cause restless leg syndrome and cramping in the muscles, which can interfere with sleep. Occasionally eating a small amount of carbohydrates can help prevent these types of issues from occurring. 

Ketones and Sleep-Wake Regulation

Ketones, the primary molecules produced during the metabolic state of ketosis in the ketogenic diet, can influence various physiological processes, including sleep-wake regulation. Here’s an exploration of the relationship between ketones and sleep patterns:

  • Brain Energy Metabolism: The brain relies heavily on glucose as its primary energy source. However, during ketosis, ketones, especially beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), provide an alternative and efficient energy source for the brain. Some studies suggest that this shift in energy metabolism may influence neuron activity and neurotransmitter release, potentially affecting sleep architecture.
  • GABA Production: GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a pivotal role in promoting sleep and regulating sleep cycles. [9] Ketones, specifically BHB, may increase GABAergic tone in the brain, which can have sedative effects, thereby potentially improving sleep quality.
  • Sleep Architecture: Preliminary research has indicated that a ketogenic diet might alter sleep architecture. Some individuals on a keto diet have reported reductions in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep but an increase in slow-wave sleep, which is considered the most restorative phase of sleep.
  • Adenosine: Adenosine is a neuromodulator that accumulates in the brain during wakefulness and promotes sleep onset and deep sleep. There is some evidence to suggest that ketosis might affect adenosine levels or its receptors, which will positively influence sleep regulation.
  • Initial Sleep Disturbances: Some people who transition to a ketogenic diet experience the “keto flu,” which can include symptoms like insomnia. This could be due to a variety of factors, including electrolyte imbalances or the body’s initial adaptation to burning fat for fuel.

Chronic Ketosis and Sleep Patterns: While the initial phases of a ketogenic diet might cause sleep disturbances for some people, consistent adherence to the diet often creates a normalization of sleep patterns. Over time, as the body becomes more adapted to ketosis, sleep disturbances may diminish, and you may even experience improved sleep quality.

Research and Studies on Keto Diet and Sleep

Concept of healthy eating with text keto on green background

When it comes to the keto diet, there’s a clear link to better sleep, particularly in terms of weight management and physical well-being. If you struggle with your weight, you might often find yourself up against sleep issues, and that can spiral into all sorts of sleep-related challenges. Here’s something cool though: studies show that foods rich in melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles, can actually help you get better sleep when compared to your usual food choices. That’s a big win for keto, since those melatonin-packed foods fit right into the diet.

Let’s break down this study that looked at 324 women. Researchers mixed low-carb eating with some other strategies. The results were pretty intriguing. Initially, about 40 percent of the women said their sleep improved with their usual diets. But then after a month on the keto diet, a whopping 65 percent of the women reported some major improvements in sleep quality. When you do the math, that’s a 20 percent bump in sleep quality improvement, all thanks to cutting carbs.

Strategies to Optimize Sleep Quality on the Keto Diet

Dish based on the specialized ketogenic diet.

Optimizing sleep quality through the keto diet requires a set of proper guidelines to best suit your unique health needs. There are, however, a few common strategies that work for a majority of people. Let’s check out those steps.

  1. Electrolyte Balance: The keto diet can increase the excretion of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Maintaining a proper electrolyte balance is crucial to prevent sleep issues. You can try different foods or shakes rich in these electrolytes.
  2. Meal Timing: Be mindful of the meal timing. Avoid consuming large, heavy meals before bedtime. The digestion process can disrupt your sleep. Try to aim for a meal at least a few hours before bedtime.
  3. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is vital. Avoid consuming excessive fluids right before bedtime. Doing so will minimize nighttime awakenings for bathroom trips.
  4. Carb Timing: You may find that consuming a small portion of carbohydrates, preferably from low-glycemic sources like leafy greens, nuts, or seeds, in the evening can promote better sleep by helping with serotonin production.
  5. Caffeine and Alcohol: Minimize caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Both substances can interfere with your sleep.
  6. Stress Management: Engage in relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. The initial adjustment to ketosis might affect your sleep, so stress reduction will become even more crucial in those first few days or weeks.
  7. Light Exposure: Ensure your sleeping environment is dark and free from artificial light sources. Exposure to natural light during the day and darkness at night helps regulate your circadian rhythm for better sleep.
  8. Regular Sleep Schedule: Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock.

Consulting Sleep Experts and Healthcare Professionals

Consulting sleep experts and healthcare professionals when following the keto diet is crucial for several reasons:

  • Individual Variation: Everyone’s body reacts differently to dietary changes. While many might find improvement in sleep quality and overall energy on the keto diet, others may experience disruptions. A sleep expert or healthcare professional can provide you with tailored advice based on your unique individual needs.
  • Potential for “Keto Insomnia”: Some people experience sleep disturbances, known as “keto insomnia”, when transitioning to the keto diet. This can result from electrolyte imbalances, changes in blood sugar levels, or the body adjusting to burning fat for fuel. A sleep expert can offer guidance on managing these symptoms and ensuring restful sleep.
  • Understanding Sleep Architecture: The keto diet can affect sleep architecture, which refers to the different stages and cycles of sleep you experience each night. For example, a shift in diet might increase deep sleep but reduce REM sleep. Consulting with a sleep expert ensures that any changes to sleep patterns are healthful and not indicative of an underlying issue.
  • Managing Existing Health Conditions: If you have pre-existing health conditions, especially sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia, you might see these conditions exacerbated or altered by dietary changes. Healthcare professionals can help monitor and adjust treatments as necessary.
  • Nutritional Balance: While the keto diet emphasizes fats, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re consuming the right kinds of fats and other essential nutrients. A healthcare professional or nutritionist can guide you in making balanced food choices to support your overall health and sleep quality.
  • Long-Term Implications: While there are many studies on the short-term benefits of the keto diet, its long-term effects, especially on sleep, are still under research. Regular check-ins with healthcare professionals can help in monitoring any long-term impacts. Your healthcare specialist can also make necessary adjustments if any are needed.
  • Supplementation: Given the restricted nature of the keto diet, you might need supplements to ensure you’re getting all of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Professionals can offer guidance on appropriate supplementation to support sleep and overall health.
  • Holistic Health Approach: Beyond just diet, sleep quality can be influenced by a myriad of factors, including stress, physical activity, and mental health. Healthcare professionals provide a holistic view, considering all aspects of health and well-being.

FAQs

Can the keto diet cause insomnia or disrupted sleep?

Yes, the keto diet can potentially cause insomnia or disrupted sleep in some individuals. This may occur due to various factors, including changes in blood sugar levels, alterations in hormones, and adjustments in caffeine or alcohol intake. However, not everyone on the keto diet experiences sleep disturbances, and individual responses can vary. It’s essential to monitor your sleep patterns and consider consulting a healthcare professional if sleep problems persist while following the keto diet.

Does the reduction of carbohydrates affect sleep hormones like melatonin?

The reduction of carbohydrates in the diet can affect sleep hormones like melatonin. Carbohydrates play a role in the production of serotonin, a precursor to melatonin. When carbohydrate intake is significantly reduced, it may lead to lower serotonin levels, potentially impacting melatonin production and consequently, sleep quality and regulation. However, the relationship between diet and sleep hormones is complex and can be influenced by various factors, including overall nutrient intake and timing of meals.

Can nutritional deficiencies on the keto diet affect sleep quality?

Nutritional deficiencies on the keto diet, particularly in key minerals like magnesium and potassium, can potentially impact sleep quality. These deficiencies may lead to muscle cramps and discomfort, which can disrupt sleep. Ensuring adequate nutrient intake and considering supplementation when necessary can help mitigate these effects and promote better sleep while on the keto diet.

Do you burn fat while sleeping when you’re on the keto diet?

On the keto diet, the body primarily burns fat for energy, even during sleep. When in a state of ketosis, which is induced by the low-carbohydrate, high-fat nature of the diet, the body relies on stored fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This can lead to continued fat burning, including while asleep, contributing to weight loss over time.

The Takeaway

In summary, there’s complex and individual variation in the link between the ketogenic diet and sleep quality. For those with insulin resistance or diabetes, the keto diet’s capacity to raise insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels may have a beneficial effect on sleep quality. The timing of carbohydrate intake, individual responses to ketosis, and electrolyte balance are some of the variables that may affect how the diet affects sleep. A ketogenic diet may improve sleep for some people, but during the adaptation phase, there may be some sleep disturbances for others.

The bottom line is that maintaining a ketogenic diet while getting the best possible sleep quality involves close observation, consideration of personal needs, and sometimes modifying the meal plan. A balanced strategy that supports both metabolic health and restful sleep can be achieved by speaking with a medical practitioner or registered dietitian. These resources can offer invaluable help in managing the relationship between nutrition and sleep. When starting this dietetic adventure, it’s critical to put your general health first and take into account the particular elements that affect sleep patterns.

References

  1. O’Neill, B., Raggi, P. (2020). The ketogenic diet: Pros and cons. Atherosclerosis, 292,119-126.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2019.11.021
  2. Arab, A., Rafie, N., Amani, R., Shirani, F. (2023). The role of magnesium in sleep health: a systematic review of available literature. Biological Trace Element Research, 201(1), 121-128.https://doi.org/10.1007/s12011-022-03162-1
  3. Heizhati, M., Zhang, Y., Shao, L., Wang, Y., Yao, X., Abulikemu, S., … Li, N. (2019). Decreased serum potassium may disturb sleep homeostasis in essential hypertensives. Hypertension Research, 42(2), 174-181. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41440-018-0131-4
  1. Mehrabi, S., Sarikhani, S., Roozbeh, J. (2017). Sleep quality in patients undergoing long-term hemodialysis using the Pittsburgh sleep quality index. Nephro-Urology Monthly, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.5812/numonthly.44278
  2. Khawaja, I., Yingling, K., Bukamur, H., Abusnina, W. (2019). Vitamin B12 deficiency: a rare cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. Journal of clinical sleep medicine, 15(9), 1365-1367. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.7936
  3. Romano, F., Muscogiuri, G., Di Benedetto, E., Zhukouskaya, V. V., Barrea, L., Savastano, S., … Di Somma, C. (2020). Vitamin D and sleep regulation: is there a role for vitamin D?. Current pharmaceutical design, 26(21), 2492-2496. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612826666200310145935
  4. Cherasse, Y., Urade, Y. (2017). Dietary zinc acts as a sleep modulator. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(11), 2334. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18112334
  5. Masi, D., Spoltore, M. E., Rossetti, R., Watanabe, M., Tozzi, R., Caputi, A., … Lubrano, C. (2022). The Influence of Ketone Bodies on Circadian Processes Regarding Appetite, Sleep and Hormone Release: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Nutrients, 14(7), 1410. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14071410
  6. Gottesmann, C. (2002). GABA mechanisms and sleep. Neuroscience, 111(2), 231-239. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4522(02)00034-9
Nikki Sambitsky
Nikki Sambitsky
Nikki Sambitsky received her BA in journalism in 2015 from Central Connecticut State University, and her MFA in creative nonfiction in 2018 from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Graduate School. She has worked in the journalism, creative writing, and health and wellness industries for over 20 years. Nikki specializes in deeply researched articles about natural healthcare and holistic products. She excels at blogging, editing, copy editing, copywriting, and educating. When Nikki is not working, she dedicates her time, love, and energy to her husband, two children, three dogs, rabbit, plants, and fish. 

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