The keto diet is linked to a variety of health benefits, but we shouldn't shrug off some of the most common complaints with this restrictive eating plan—especially for women. Specifically, plenty of women have reported issues with their regularity, menstrual cycle, and...sleep?
It's true, at least for those just starting out on the diet: "Keto is definitely affecting your hormones and not always in a positive way—at least not classic keto," says Harvard-trained integrative medicine doctor Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of Women, Food, and Hormones, on the mindbodygreen podcast. As a result, she notes women have higher rates of poor sleep on the eating plan. But don't worry—she offers an easy fix.
How going keto can mess with your sleep.
"We know that [complex] carbs are necessary for us to make serotonin, which is so important for getting a good night's sleep every night," she explains. See, the neurotransmitter actually converts to melatonin (otherwise known as the sleepytime hormone) in the brain's pineal gland—so it's necessary for sleep.
The keto diet can also affect the leptin hormone: Women, generally, have more leptin sensitivity than men, so they can be more sensitive to when leptin levels decline too low, which can influence low-quality sleep (and make them hungrier, too).
What to do about it.
"It's not that women can't experience the benefits [of keto]," says Gottfried. "It's just that we need some workarounds." To that end, she recommends introducing more carbs into the diet than "classic keto" might allow. "Even though I was told that was not the way to do keto, I found that many patients are able to get into ketosis focusing on net carbs," she says.
But let us emphasize complex carbs here: This does not mean you should dig into a bowl of potato chips before bed. You still want to choose foods with a low glycemic index in order to keep your blood sugar balanced. (Because, friendly reminder, your blood sugar also affects your shut-eye.) Some of the best nutrient-dense sources of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, beets, squash, and carrots—but check out our full guide to keto carb cycling, if you're curious.
Bonus points if you choose foods rich in magnesium, too, as the mineral is important for a bunch of functions in the body, including sleep.* Some favorites include chickpeas, bananas, pumpkin seeds, and we could go on (so we'll just send you here for a quick recap).
And if you'd like even more of a nudge before bed, you can lean on sleep supplements clinically shown to have a calming effect on the brain. Our very own sleep support+ was designed with leading researchers and physicians to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed, featuring 120 mg of highly absorbable and gentle magnesium bisglycinate with jujube seed extract and PharmaGABA®.* It's a well-rounded supplement free of GMOs, gluten, dairy, soy, and food allergens, and it can seamlessly fit into any lifestyle.
Cutting out complex carbs does have the potential to mess with your sleep—of course, not everyone experiences this effect (everyone's body is different!), and it does tend to go away once your body gets used to the new eating plan. But if you are starting keto and having trouble clocking hours, you might want to think about slotting in some sleep-promoting, whole carbs. Just one more caveat: You don't want to eat anything too heavy right before bed, even if the foods are inherently sleep-promoting. Other than that, dig in and dream on.
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.