Are you new to the keto diet? If so, you’ve most likely felt the flu-like side effects of the diet. One of these symptoms is keto insomnia, which is caused by different factors as part of transitioning from a carbohydrate-burning to a fat-burning state.
Not everyone experiences trouble sleeping on keto, but those who do feel the consequences, such as daytime fatigue and poor focus. The good news is that insomnia is only temporary, just like other negative symptoms when starting the diet.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the possible causes of insomnia on keto, what to expect, and how you can prevent it from happening or manage it.
Keto can interrupt your sleep at night. It’s a common symptom of changing your diet from high-carb to very low-carb. Other flu-like symptoms that happen along with insomnia include body aches, hunger, and increased thirst (*).
However, remember that insomnia eventually goes away on its own as you keep sticking to the keto diet. In fact, many people who properly implement keto (which we’ll get into in a while) find that their sleep has improved over time. This may likely be due to the increase in adenosine, which plays a role in regulating sleep (*).
Keto insomnia is a temporary problem in which a new keto dieter has difficulty falling or staying asleep. People who experience this usually do so within the first few days of reducing carbohydrates.
Unfortunately, this is also the same period wherein you experience other side effects of going keto, which makes the whole keto transition extremely challenging. Because sleep deprivation makes you tired during the day, it may cause you to crave sugar and high-carb foods, which is detrimental to your health and keto diet goals (*).
A number of things happen when you’re going keto, from having low glucose levels, to possible electrolyte imbalances and digestive issues. These things can prevent you from getting enough shut-eye.
Here’s more about each factor so you can better understand the connection between keto and sleep:
Low blood glucose levels during the night can lead to sleep issues, whether or not a person has diabetes (*). Since you’re reducing carbs, your blood sugar lowers naturally. It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before starting keto if you’re taking glucose-lowering medications.
Electrolyte imbalances, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, occur as a result of low insulin levels. (Because reducing your carb intake brings your insulin down.)
One study found that supplementing with magnesium increases melatonin — a hormone that rises at night which regulates the sleep-wake cycle — and improves sleep quality regardless of a person’s age (*).
Being low on electrolytes can also contribute to sleep problems by causing muscle cramps, muscle twitching, and headaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, people with migraines (which can be triggered by low electrolytes) are more likely to get insomnia (*).
Digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation also happen at the start of the keto diet. Eating more fat than usual and cutting back on many high-carb vegetables, which also pack fiber, can affect your gut — and ultimately, your sleep.
Last but not least, certain foods and beverages that are keto-friendly may sabotage your sleep. For instance, drinking black coffee (to stay alert and suppress appetite) later in the day can make it difficult to fall asleep. Spicy foods, such as chili peppers, may trigger heartburn and acid reflux. Furthermore, they raise your body temperature, which is linked to poor sleep quality (*).
The duration of keto insomnia depends on how soon a person adapts to the keto diet. Generally speaking, it takes up to 4 weeks for insomnia to go away, along with other keto flu symptoms.
This is especially true for those who are coming off a high-carbohydrate diet. It helps to remember that keto is going to be a significant lifestyle change and therefore it will take a while to get used to running on ketones instead of sugar for energy.
Watch out for the following symptoms when you’re starting a keto diet for the first time:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Not feeling well-rested upon waking up
- Fatigue or sleepiness during the day
- Low energy, motivation, and focus
- Increased stress and irritability
Since keto insomnia is only a short-term problem, these symptoms will resolve as your body becomes used to its new macros. Later in this article, we’ll be discussing remedies for managing insomnia on keto.
Not sleeping well on the keto diet can lead to the following:
- Poor performance at work or in school
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased negative mood and anxiety
- Higher appetite, which may trigger overeating
- Increased risk of catching a cold (since a lack of sleep affects the immune system)
- Increased risk of making mistakes and getting into an accident
Important: Chronic insomnia — insomnia lasting more than 3 months and isn’t related to the keto diet — should be addressed by a professional. Note that some medical conditions cause chronic insomnia, such as acid reflux or a respiratory condition (e.g. asthma and COPD).
Unless insomnia is unrelated to the keto diet, these strategies should help prevent or manage insomnia if you’re already experiencing it:
1. Gradually reduce carbohydrates
You can get into ketosis by cutting out carbs completely. But because keto is a significant lifestyle change a lot of people find themselves struggling.
Reduce feelings of discomfort by gradually reducing carbs. You can start eliminating only one type of high-carb food, such as grains, for a few days or weeks. Then proceed with sugary desserts, starchy vegetables, and most fruits.
In order to not feel deprived on keto, swap out those high-carb foods for low-carb options. For example, have shirataki (konjac) noodles instead of regular noodles, or cauliflower rice instead of white rice.
2. Consume your carbs later in the day
You might have heard of the advice to save your carbs for later in the day. So, instead of eating 30-50 grams of carbs in the morning, do it in the evening.
The explanation is that eating carbs before bed helps with sleep since carbs increase brain tryptophan. Tryptophan is then metabolized into serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin makes you sleepy and can improve your total sleep time (*).
The same rule applies: Focus on keto-friendly carb sources, such as cauliflower, nuts, and avocados. (Eating all of your carbs later in the day may also help with weight loss and muscle gain. This is based on the principle of carb backloading.)
3. Get enough electrolytes
Electrolyte imbalances as a result of running on very few carbohydrates can trigger keto flu symptoms and insomnia. Some individuals may also be taking medications that lower electrolytes, such as diuretics and antibiotics.
The easiest and most convenient way to restore electrolytes and prevent imbalances is by eating a variety of electrolyte-rich foods. Try broccoli, watermelon (in moderation), chicken, canned tuna, and strawberries.
Remember to drink plenty of water and include a keto-friendly electrolyte drink, such as Perfect Keto Daily Electrolytes.
Speak with your doctor as well about the medications you’re currently taking (both prescription and over-the-counter). Ask if they need to be adjusted while on keto.
4. Eat keto-friendly foods with nutrients that promote better sleep
There are plenty of low-carb foods that can address insomnia since they contain nutrients that improve sleep. Such nutrients include:
- Magnesium: almonds, spinach, chia seeds, dark chocolate, beef, poultry
- Tryptophan (an amino acid): cheese, eggs, chicken, turkey, canned tuna, pumpkin seeds
- Vitamin D: beef liver, sardines, egg yolk, cod liver oil
- Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, oysters, seaweed, shrimps
5. Follow a consistent sleep schedule
Keto flu isn’t the only factor that’s affecting your sleep. Other things like traveling, shift work, and drinking alcohol can get you off track.
The key is to decide on a sleep schedule and stick to it. This means choosing a specific bedtime and wake-up time and making sure you meet the recommended sleep hours — 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
It helps to set yourself up for good sleep by taking a warm bath, meditating, and diffusing essential oils.
6. Exercise regularly but avoid doing it close to bedtime
Research shows that exercise helps relieve insomnia in addition to speeding up ketosis and weight loss on keto (*).
While some people can exercise at any time without affecting their sleep, others find that nighttime exercise — especially one that’s high-intensity — keeps them awake.
For those with insomnia, it’s best to stop exercising at least 4 hours before bedtime. In case you’ve had a large dinner, you can take a walk.
Tip: See how your workouts are affecting your sleep by recording them in a sleep and exercise diary. Write down the type of workout you did, the time and duration, and how well you slept that night.
7. Practice relaxation techniques
Wind down before bed by following a relaxing routine. This should incorporate activities that allow you to relax. For instance, reading a good book while playing soft music in the background. Choose books for pleasure rather than those related to your work.
8. Drink your last cup of coffee hours before bedtime
Because caffeine increases wakefulness and brain activity, taking it close to bedtime isn’t a good idea. If you’re already having insomnia, be sure to cut back on coffee and avoid drinking it 6 hours before bed.
Consider replacing coffee with energy-boosting alternatives, such as exposing yourself to early morning sunlight, working out, and drinking lots of water.
9. Avoid using electronics at night
It can be tempting to immerse ourselves in social media and work late into the night; however, doing so can negatively affect our sleep. Besides keeping our minds engaged, handheld devices and computer screens emit blue light — which suppresses melatonin.
For people who cannot avoid electronic devices at night, a good piece of advice is to use blue light-blocking glasses. Also, try turning on the night shift setting in your phone so that it displays warmer colors.
Otherwise, turn off all electronic devices at least 2 hours before going to bed.
10. Keep your intermittent fasting periods short
Intermittent fasting is often used in combination with the keto diet to reach ketosis faster. However, fasting stresses the body, and as a result, it can interfere with sleep when done too much.
Although intermittent fasting may improve your sleep over time, it might be a good idea to avoid extended fasting for now. Fasting for 12-16 hours a day is better than a 24-hour fast.
Below are questions and answers below that will help you learn more about insomnia on keto.
When does keto insomnia start?
It can start within the first few days of the keto diet. Insomnia happens at around the same time other keto flu symptoms arise.
Does keto insomnia go away?
Keto insomnia can subside quickly with strategies like getting enough electrolytes, consuming carbs in the evening, and following a relaxing routine for restful sleep.
Is insomnia a symptom of ketosis?
Insomnia can be one of the telltale signs of ketosis, although it may also be caused by an underlying medical condition.
There’s a connection between keto and sleep. As you’ve learned from this guide, the keto diet can interfere with your sleep — but only in the beginning.
With a few adjustments, such as easing yourself into keto, eating your carbs in the evening, and replenishing electrolytes, you’ll be able to sleep better in no time. Keto insomnia eventually fades, which is why you need to contact your healthcare provider if you’re still having difficulty sleeping.