Can a Keto Diet Affect Sleep?

Food and sleep play important roles in our overall well-being. Yet the food we eat and when we eat can also impact on the quality of our sleeping patterns. This can be a very relevant consideration for those who experience a disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea. 

Anything which negatively affects how we fall asleep or impacts on the quality of our sleeping patterns can hinder the effectiveness of any treatment plan. A change of diet can also affect the circadian rhythm, our body clocks, with the potential to further affect sleeping patterns.

The Keto Diet

The Keto diet has become increasingly popular and is based on a high fat, low carbohydrate dietary plan. The aim of the diet is to induce ketosis in the body by burning fats for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates. The diet has been used as a treatment for epilepsy in children since the 1920’s and variations today include the Atkins Diet and the Dukan Diet. Besides low level of carbohydrates and high fat intake, this type of diet requires a moderate amount of proteins to be consumed.

The Affect on Sleeping Patterns

Any significant changes to our diets can affect our sleeping patterns, with potential short-term and long-term impacts. However, research remains at a fairly early stage on whether the Keto diet in particular is beneficial or not for sleeping. 

Yet it is not uncommon for people who adopt this diet to report sleeping issues in the beginning. This may not be surprising as carbohydrates supply the amino acid L-tryptophan which in turn aids the production of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies, important in helping us fall asleep. A sudden reduction in carbohydrates will similarly see a drop in levels of serotonin and melatonin, with the potential for a short-term impact on our rest.

A study conducted by Sydney University looked at the influence of a low-carb diet on adult men and found a decrease in REM sleeping cycles and an increase in short-wave sleeping patterns. This study seemed to back up the notion of a reduction in carbohydrates leading to potential sleeping problems, at least in the short-term. However, other studies have indicated this diet increases the REM sleeping cycle as well as overall sleeping quality in children who have epilepsy. This was also the case in a recent study involving a test group of obese patients.

With lower levels of carbohydrates and serotonin already potentially affecting how we fall asleep, an increase in proteins could be compounding these issues. Increased protein increases the levels of an amino acid called tyrosine, which is key in stimulating brain chemicals. This in turn stimulates brain alertness and hence any increased levels of tyrosine could also affect a person’s ability to fall asleep. Such changes to key amino acids make it understandable how someone may experience an increase in insomnia when they switch to a low carb diet.

However, it has to be stressed that these studies only show short-term implications and there are other studies which point to a low-carb, high fat diet being beneficial to sleeping. Those suffering with sleep apnea may already be consuming low levels of carbohydrates. 

Recent research also suggests a ketogenic diet boosts adenosine, a chemical which aids sleeping regulation. As adenosine accumulates through the day it facilitates tiredness and feeling less awake. These newer studies suggest the low-carb diet may stimulate adenosine and therefore promote our falling asleep.

Long-Term Effects on Sleep

The impact of ketogenic diets on sleeping patterns needs considerably more research to fully appreciate the effects. Even if there was a general trend in one direction, this does not necessarily mean it stands for everyone. 

There can be many contributing factors to a person’s sleeping disorder and not everyone will react to a change in diet in exactly the same manner. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea though, a diet which sees weight loss could be beneficial as obesity is one of the leading causes of the disorder. However, dietary considerations should first be discussed with your doctor or specialist.

Another factor which may have more long-term impact is the quality of the food you are eating and in terms of a ketogenic diet the quality of the carbohydrates you consume. 

A good-quality diet including fresh fruit and vegetables with reduced levels of sugar content is seen to improve sleeping patterns. When switching to a low carb diet it is even more important to consider the quality of the carbohydrates you are eating, focusing on high fiber whole foods rather than processed food with high levels of sugars and starch.

A good, healthy diet should work hand in hand with a good sleeping pattern to promote healthy living, yet more research is needed to fully understand the impact of a ketogenic diet on sleep.