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Health A to Z  —  8 minutes

How the keto and paleo diets influence your sleep

March 15th, 2021
Biron

Whether they want to lose weight, gain muscle, improve their health or boost their energy, many people follow a diet to achieve their goals. But is there a diet specifically designed for better sleep?

The ketogenic (keto) and paleolithic (paleo) diets have been in vogue for a number of years now, and dietitians in the U.S. predict they will remain popular in 2021. These diets encourage higher intake of protein and fatty acids, and lower intake of carbohydrates. Before demystifying the impact of these diets on our sleep, let’s take a closer look at their specifics.

What’s the keto diet?

We call it the keto (short for “ketogenic”) diet because it is designed to put the body in a state of ketosis, i.e. where it lacks access to carbohydrates and turns to using body fat as a source of energy. To achieve this, keto enthusiasts consume mostly fatty acids, as well as protein in smaller quantities, restricting their carbohydrates to a minimum.

The diet of a keto follower most often looks like this:

75% fatty acids, 20% protein, 5% carbohydrates

Foods to include in a keto diet:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • Oils
  • Low-carb vegetables

Foods to avoid in a keto diet:

  • Grains
  • Nearly all fruit
  • Legumes
  • Root vegetables
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
Potential benefits of the keto diet

While many people opt for the keto diet to lose weight, this dies was first used around 1920 to treat epilepsy. A low-carbohydrate keto diet prompts the body to produce ketone bodies. A high protein intake, combined with the production of ketones, affects satiety and appetite reduction, which can result in weight loss.

In a recent meta-analysis, a decrease in blood triglycerides, an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and improved control of blood glucose levels were observed in diabetic patients. However, LDL (bad cholesterol) also increased.[1] Another meta-analysis found a decrease in LDL in people who followed a keto diet rich in unsaturated fats.[2] Although it may be more difficult to follow a keto diet that includes little saturated fat, a focus on eating sources of fat such as fish, nuts, olives, and avocados can only be beneficial for cardiovascular health.

What is the paleo diet?

Paleo derives from “paleolithic,” which was the earliest period of human prehistory. According to the paleo diet, we eat what our ancestors ate. The idea is to go back to basics and eat whole, unprocessed foods.

Although the paleo diet does not recommend percentages for macronutrients, the majority of people who follow this diet tend to consume less carbohydrates, most of which come from fruit and vegetables.

Foods to include in a paleo diet:

  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Vegetables (including root vegetables and tubers)
  • Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetable oils from fruits or nuts

Foods to avoid in a paleo diet:

  • Processed foods
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Cafeine
  • Alchool
  • Salt
Potential benefits of the paleo diet

Just like the keto diet, the paleo diet is very popular for losing weight. Studies have also shown that this diet can improve glycemic levels and insulin sensitivity, making it an excellent choice for diabetics.[3]

By removing processed foods and salt, we can expect a positive impact on cardiovascular health. A number of studies report a positive impact on waist circumference, cholesterol and blood pressure.[4][5]

How do the keto and paleo diets influence sleep?

Because nutrition and sleep are both complex systems, it is very difficult to conduct studies that can identify the best foods to promote quality sleep. However, most studies show that overeating or eating shortly before bedtime is detrimental to sleep quality. Two habits to change for a better night’s sleep!

Carbohydrates and sleep

For a good night’s sleep, it appears that the quality of the carbohydrates is more important than the quantity. Diets that include healthy sources of fiber-rich carbohydrates seem to help improve sleep.[6]

While carbohydrates are practically non-existent in the keto diet, they are found in the paleo diet. These carbohydrates are high in fibre (tubers and fruit), as all sources of refined sugar and processed products have been removed.

The delay between consuming carbohydrates and going to bed also influences quality of sleep. The longer you wait, the better your sleep will be.[7]

Fatty acids and sleep

Fatty acids make up about 75% of the total diet of a keto follower.

Researchers disagree on the effects of fatty acid intake on sleep. Some studies show a positive impact, while others show that high-fat diets lead to sleep disorders. [8]

Animal fats are almost exclusively saturated fats. They make up the bulk of the keto diet. Although not many studies exist on the topic, researchers who have looked into the question have shown that consuming saturated fats has an adverse effect on quality of sleep. It is thought to cause people to wake up more often during the night and spend less time asleep. [9]

Protein and sleep

Consuming protein increases the amount of tyrosine in the body, which triggers the production of stress hormones. These hormones can prevent you from sleeping or staying asleep.[10]

Similar to the question of consuming fatty acids, researchers disagree on the effects of protein-rich diets on sleep. While some studies have shown that people who follow these diets sleep longer,[11] have more regular sleep cycles [12] and a better quality of sleep,[13] other studies have shown that people sleep for shorter periods.

Listening to your body

Each person is different and reacts differently to macronutrients. As a result, there is no one diet that is best for everyone, whether you want to sleep better or improve your health.

If you choose to make changes to your diet, keep in mind that your body will need some time to adapt, and this adjustment may also affect your sleep.

It is important to note that the benefits of dieting vary from one person to the next. Also, cutting out food groups can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. When changing lifestyle habits, it is advisable to consult a recognized professional such as a nutritionist. You should also inform your doctor and pharmacist, because cutting out all carbohydrates can have serious consequences if you are diabetic.

  1. Margriet A. B. Veldhorst, Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga and Klaas R. Westerterp. “Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (September 2009): Vol. 90, #3, 519-526, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19640952/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  2. F. L. Santos et al. “Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors,” Obesity Reviews (November 2012): Vol. 13, #11, 1048-1066, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22905670/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  3. S. Lindeberg et al. “A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease,” Diabetologia (September 2007): Vol. 50, #9, 1795-1807, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17583796 (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  4. T. Jönnsson et al. “Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study,” Cardiovascular Diabetology (July 16, 2009), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19604407 (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  5. M. Ryberg et al. “A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women,” Journal of Internal Medicine (July 2013): Vol. 274, #1, 67-76, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23414424 (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  6. I. Jaussent et al. “Insomnia symptoms in older adults: associated factors and gender differences,” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (January 2011): Vol. 19, #1, 88-97, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20808113/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  7. Lauren Wicks. “Eating More Fiber Could Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep – Here’s How,” Eating Well (March 10, 2020): https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7677155/eating-more-fiber-could-help-you-get-a-better-nights-sleep/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  8. Glenda Lindseth and Ashley Murray. “Dietary Macronutrients and Sleep,” Western Journal of Nursing Research (August 2016): Vol. 38, #8, 938-958, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5612383/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  9. Mingxia Zhao et al. “The Impact of Nutrients, Dietary Components and Derivatives on the Gut Microbiota and Inflammation-Related Diseases, from Molecular Basis to Therapy,” Mediators of Inflammation: Vol. 2020, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2020/3142874/?msclkid=4864514de4b11832eb9f0e76336e9eaf (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  10. SuJean Choi et al. “Effect of chronic protein ingestion on tyrosine and tryptophan levels and catecholamine and serotonin synthesis in rat brain,” Nutritional Neuroscience (November 2011): Vol. 14, #6, 260-267, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22053757 (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  11. M. A. Grandner et al. “Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample,” Appetite (May 2013): Vol. 64, 71-80, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703747/ (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  12. M. Yamaguchi et al. “Relationship of dietary factors and habits with sleep-wake regularity,” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013): Vol. 22, #3, 457-465, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23945417 (accessed February, 22, 2021).
  13. Sara Sarrafi Zadeh and Khyrunnisa Begum. “Comparison of nutrient intake by sleep status in selected adults in Mysore, India,” Nutrition Research and Practice (June 2011): Vol. 5, #3, 230-235, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21779527 (accessed February, 22, 2021).