Our Educational Content is Not Meant or Intended for Medical Advice or Treatment
So you've started the keto diet, have stopped eating carbohydrates, and are on your way to weight loss and better health. But then, all of a sudden you notice you are having trouble sleeping. And you can't sleep without carbs...
I've heard from many people that they can't fall asleep at bedtime when starting to eat a low-carb diet. It can be a common issue and a discouraging one. Fortunately, there is an answer. So if you are dealing with sleepless nights and insomnia, what do you do?
In this article, I'll share with you what is behind this problem and what to do about it. I will cover:
- The role of insulin resistance.
- The two hormones linked to this insomnia issue.
- 7 things to try to improve your sleep quality.
- Key takeaways.
I'll start by explaining how insulin resistance is usually underneath this kind of trouble sleeping.
Can't sleep without carbs? You likely have insulin resistance
What does it mean if you can't sleep without carbs? It likely means that you've had insulin resistance for a long time.
Insulin resistance is often to blame for trouble sleeping when you get rid of carbohydrates.
Going on the low-carb keto diet can really help support healthy insulin levels and help to correct insulin resistance in the long run. However, if you have had insulin resistance in the past and then you go on keto and cut back on your carbs, it can take a long time to correct the insulin resistance problem. It can take months or even a year of a low-carb diet to fully stabilize your insulin levels after having the problem for so long.
So when you start doing this low-carb diet, you'll significantly cut back on your carb intake. But your insulin levels will still be high because of the insulin resistance problem. And as a result, the ratio of carbohydrates to insulin will be completely imbalanced. You'll still have high insulin but with an absence of carbs.
That high amount of insulin can end up pushing your blood sugars down too low in the middle of the night.
And super low blood sugar can be problematic for your sleep, because it triggers two hormones to activate. And those hormones can wake you up and keep you up in the middle of the night.
The two hormones at the root of the problem
When your blood sugars get too low, your body has a corrective mechanism to bring them back into balance. Two of the counter hormones that keep blood sugars from going too low are:
When you think of cortisol and adrenaline, you might think of stress, high energy situations, and being all amped up. Is that the way you want to feel in the middle of the night when you are trying to sleep? Absolutely not.
Cortisol and adrenaline will keep you awake at night. And unfortunately, if your blood sugars swing too low due to your insulin resistance and lack of carbs, both of these hormones can become elevated at night.
And they can cause insomnia and sleep problems you are having when not eating carbs.
Learn more about how cortisol can ruin your sleep here.
What can you do about this problem?
Now that you know what might be behind this keto insomnia issue, you can start to do something about it.
Fortunately, it gets better with time. And on top of that, there are several strategies you can experiment with to help ease the transition and get better sleep. You'll want to do what you can to keep your body calm, promote relaxation, stabilize blood sugars and insulin, and more.
Certain foods, supplements, and daily habits can help with your sleeplessness and correct the problem. Try these tips and see how you do:
1. Be patient.
The good news is that this sleep problem will get better if you stick with the low-carb keto diet. Some of the great benefits of low-carb eating include getting your insulin and blood sugar levels back into balance. So with time, it can help support your insulin resistance and correct that issue.
And as insulin continues to go down and stabilize to a healthy level, you'll notice your sleep getting better and better. Those two hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) will no longer be triggered at night and you'll be able to sleep more peacefully.
So stick with it. It takes some time to adapt to ketosis.
2. Take electrolytes.
If you are dealing with insomnia, consider taking all-natural electrolytes. The minerals potassium, calcium, and magnesium are all very calming to your brain and adrenal glands. Calming the adrenals can help to keep cortisol and adrenaline levels in check.
Consider these three minerals as calming, relaxing supplements that will help you turn your body and brain off so you can sleep better:
3. Drink apple cider vinegar.
Taking apple cider vinegar in water before bedtime is a great insomnia trick. Apple cider vinegar helps to stabilize blood sugars, lower insulin, and improve insulin resistance. This can help to keep your insulin levels lower before bed so that they won't push your blood sugars down too low and trigger cortisol and adrenaline release.
This healthy vinegar can help your insulin resistance in the long term, too. Learn more about why apple cider vinegar is good for blood sugars and insulin here.
4. Adjust your protein intake.
Did you know that protein is a stimulant? Part of the problem might be that you are consuming too much protein during your last meal of the day. If you are doing that, the high-protein meal could be stimulating your nervous system. And that alone could be keeping you awake at night.
Try adjusting your protein intake. Pay close attention to your last meal of the day, and consider eating less protein during that meal. That could help to calm things down and address your sleep issues.
5. Boost your veggie consumption.
Eating plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables can provide you with the electrolytes you need like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C.
Remember, many of these nutrients help to calm down your nervous system and turn your body off so you can fall asleep. I recommend 7-10 cups of salad daily, especially if you need more foods that help you sleep.
6. Try vitamin B1.
Vitamin B1 is another nutrient to pay attention to. It is vital for good sleep. It is a key nutrient for energy regulation, and at night it can help to ease things like restless leg syndrome, anxiety, nightmares, and excessive thinking. It also helps to keep your pulse rate low (a high pulse rate can be linked to sleep issues).
When you start keto, your body actually requires more vitamin B1 than normal. It can be a great supplement to try when you are adapting to the keto diet, especially if you are having a hard time with insomnia. Nutritional yeast is a great way to get B1 into your diet.
7. Limit caffeine.
If you want to get rid of wakefulness at night, you'll want to stay away from this nervous system stimulant. When having insomnia or sleep issues of any kind, watching your caffeine intake is always important.
So limit your coffee, tea, and caffeine intake. I recommend just one cup of coffee at the start of the day and no more.
8. Try exogenous ketones.
As you've learned above, a dramatic drop in blood sugar is often at the root of the problem when it comes to keto insomnia. If you are having this issue, it can be helpful if your brain is not as dependent on blood sugar.
That is where exogenous ketones come in. By feeding your brain ketones directly, it gives your brain another fuel source to turn to. And your blood sugars won't be affected quite so much.
These ketone salts are available online or at health food stores. Try taking them before bed and see how you do.
9. Take vitamin D.
Have you ever noticed that you tend to sleep better when you've been out in the sun all day? One reason for this is because you get a vitamin D boost when you are out in the sunshine. And vitamin D can actually help you to sleep.
Consider a vitamin D supplement. This can be particularly useful during the wintertime when it is hard to get outdoors and get enough sun exposure naturally.
The keto diet eating plan has so many health benefits. From weight loss to improved energy to balanced blood sugars, it can really make a big difference in your life.
But for some people, the transition into the ketogenic diet can come with some side effects and bumps in the road. If you've been dealing with insulin resistance for a long time, for example, you might find yourself having a hard time sleeping at night when starting to eat a low-carb diet. You might find that you can't sleep without carbs.
That's because you still have high insulin levels but not very many carbohydrates... and so you can get into a hypoglycemic state at nighttime. That ultimately triggers stimulating hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Fortunately, this will get better with time. It is generally a short-term problem that improves as your body gets used to a lack of carbohydrates and your insulin resistance improves. So be patient. Keep in mind that fats also contain much more energy than carbohydrates do. So as your body gets used to ketosis, it may feel more energized and awake than you are used to.
There are several things you can do along the way to support better sleep. These include:
- Taking electrolytes.
- Supplementing with apple cider vinegar.
- Adjusting your protein.
- Eating lots of vegetables.
- Trying vitamin B1.
- Limiting your caffeine.
- Taking exogenous ketones before bed.
- Boosting your vitamin D.
Want other tips for more restful sleep? Check out these resources:
Did you have trouble sleeping when starting with the keto diet and limiting your carbohydrates? What did you do to help your body calm down and fall asleep? Share your comments and questions with me below.
Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.