If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, you know that it’s pretty debilitating. More women than men struggle with getting adequate, quality sleep on a regular basis, and the number of those facing sleep deprivation are ever-growing. In fact, there are millions of prescriptions written each year for sleep aids, and a very long list of drugs available to combat sleeplessness.
After a night of poor sleep, you might feel irritable, depressed and over-emotional, not to mention hungry all day long. You might even find yourself getting sick much more often amidst bouts of sleepless nights or gaining weight. None of this is just in your head, as there is solid science to back up why high-quality sleep is truly a foundational pillar of health. Thankfully, there are also some specific ways to hit your need for 20% deep sleep, and a ketogenic diet is one of them.
We’ve all heard that sleep is so important, but do you know why, exactly? Aside from the fact that you’ll probably feel downright crummy the day after a bad night, chronic sleep loss has also been shown to increase your risk of depression, mood disorders, weakened immunity, hormonal imbalances, obesity and heart disease.1,2,3
Sleep plays a fundamental role in just about every aspect of wellness, from cognitive function4 to physical health1 to emotional and spiritual wellbeing.5 How you feel when you’re awake is a direct reflection of how well you are sleeping, and this is largely due to the fact that when you sleep, your body is putting in an incredible amount of work to support healthy growth, repair, and mental processes. In children, this is even more prominent, as their proper development and learning are heavily linked to adequate and quality sleep.
There are four stages of sleep. Stages 1-3 are known as “Non-REM” sleep and stage four is known as “REM” sleep.6Interestingly, moments of wakefulness can happen throughout all stages during the night, from when you change positions or shift from one stage to another. The stages basically go in order from the lightest sleep state to the heaviest. With each stage, brain waves slow, heart rate decreases, body temperature lowers, and awakenings are less likely (except for REM, when you can more easily be awakened). Stage 3 is the deepest stage of sleep and when most sleepwalking or talking occurs, and REM sleep (rapid eye movement) is where dreams occur8. Getting woken out of REM sleep can leave you feeling groggy and sleepy.
The science of sleep is fascinating, and I was surprised to learn that REM sleep is not necessarily considered the stage of deep sleep. Some experts feel that both stages 3 and 4 count as “deep sleep” while others assert that only stage 3 fits the mold of sleeping deeply.7 On average, you might spend about 90-120 minutes in stage 3 sleep, and about 90-130 minutes in REM sleep.6
What most experts can agree on is that spending around 20% of your night in stage 3 deep sleep is ideal for optimal health and wellness.8 Many more people in their 20s will naturally spend this amount of time in deep sleep, but with age, this percentage tends to drop. For most people, 20% of your night spent in deep sleep averages out to between 1.5-2 hours.9
Deep sleep is also known as delta sleep or slow wave sleep and is absolutely the most restorative stage. Your muscles and heart rate deeply relax, and your body is given the opportunity to repair and recharge.10 Processes such as organ detoxification, autophagy, wound healing and muscle tissue building take place during deep sleep. Glucose metabolism is also increased, which boosts both long- and short-term memory and learning.11
There is no such thing as “too much” deep sleep, but there certainly is too little. Sometimes it’s obvious when you don’t sleep well, but other times you might wonder if your sleep is truly restful. Signs it may not be and that you’re not hitting your need for 20% deep sleep include increased clumsiness, feeling exhausted in the morning, being very dependent on caffeine, a low libido, moodiness, and anxiety, among others.12 If you try the tips for getting more deep sleep below to no avail, you might consider a sleep study.
The good news is that your keto diet is very likely to facilitate more time in deep sleep. It’s normal to have a small period of adjustment where sleep might worsen, but after this transition, you will probably begin to sleep deeper and feel more energized during the day. One study found that obese teens on a keto diet increased both their REM and deep sleep cycles,13,14 and another study found that the keto diet reduced daytime sleepiness.15 While more research is needed, some researchers suspect that this improvement in sleep is thanks to an increase of adenosine, a brain chemical important to regulating sleep.16
Understanding sleep and being able to get it are two completely different beasts, and I know it’s often easier said than done. Here are my top eight ways to get more deep sleep, all solidly backed by science:
Especially if you have trouble sleeping, it really can be detrimental to work, watch TV, or do any other stressful activity in the bedroom.17Make your bed and your bedroom a sacred, calming, peaceful place that you look forward to going to. Spice it up with lavender essential oils or candles, and dim lighting.
Routines are essential for combating sleep troubles. Ideally, you’ll begin about an hour before bedtime, and routines might look different for each person. Maybe you take a relaxing Epsom salt bath,18 and then read a good book. Or perhaps you engage in some deep breathing (see below for details). I love the tradition of keeping a gratitude list and going over it each night before bed. It is key to develop your strategy and stick to it, and realize it might take persistence, practice and patience.19
This is critical for good quality sleep. At least one hour before bed, unglue yourself from computers, TV, phones, etc. This might seem tough, but melatonin is negatively impacted by the light given off from electronic devices, and this mistake can profoundly affect your sleep quality.20,21
Depending on the metabolism of each individual, caffeine can stay in your systems for up to 24 hours. I recommend saying no to any caffeine after 12 pm, but for some, this might even be earlier. Particularly if you suffer from insomnia, your hormones are already on high alert, and caffeine could make things worse.22,23
The pineal gland produces melatonin in accordance with the natural contrast between bright daily sun exposure and darkness at night. If you spend all day in a dimly lit office or have any other circumstance that keeps you in relative darkness during the day, this can wreak havoc on sleep.24,25
On the flip side, sleeping with even just a small amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt your body’s biological clock. This can be remedied with blackout shades or heavy curtains on the windows and covering up any electronics that emit light. If some light is unavoidable, invest in a good quality sleep mask.26
Often easier said than done depending on where you live, but if at all possible, try to get some morning sunlight. Even just 10 minutes can help regulate your circadian rhythm.27
There is now solid research and evidence showing that EMFs interfere with melatonin production and can also have other harmful health effects. There are ways to measure EMF levels in your bedroom using a gauss meter, and you can also take simpler measures to remove electronics from your sleeping space.28
Being a mom to four children, I empathize if poor sleep is sometimes inevitable. Whether it’s a child, late night at work or you’re struggling with insomnia, sometimes we can’t avoid a bad night. Here are my top three ways to combat a bad night’s sleep the next day.
Have you ever felt like, after a bad night’s sleep, you just want to eat carbs and sugar all day long? If so, this is a real physiological phenomenon, as lack of deep sleep has been shown to impact appetite and cravings in a couple of big ways. One, sleeplessness impacts regions of the brain that control decision making and increases deeper brain centers that respond to rewards. In other words, you’ll have far less willpower or high-level decision-making abilities when it comes to food choices.
Furthermore, your hunger hormone, ghrelin, rises with poor sleep while leptin declines, the hormone responsible for signaling fullness. The other important piece in the hormone puzzle is insulin, which also spikes with sleep deprivation and causes you to burn sugar instead of fat.
It’s not hopeless! You can combat these cravings and hormonal shifts by increasing your fat intake and keeping healthy keto snacks on hand, like fat bombs. This might not be the day to practice intermittent fasting, and that’s ok. Fill up your plate with fibrous veggies, more fat than usual and you might even treat yourself to a delicious keto dessert.
I don’t recommend depending on supplements regularly in an attempt to counteract sleeplessness, but certain ones can be helpful after the occasional restless night. Remember that lack of sleep is a stressor on the body, so cortisol levels are spiked. Adaptogens like ashwagandha and adrenal supporting nutrients like vitamin C can make a big difference. A blood sugar support like Perfect Keto Blood Sugar Capsules can help to minimize sugar and carb cravings and MCT oil can help your body continue burning fat, and also stabilize blood sugar.
B vitamins can also help to increase energy, mental alertness, and clarity, just be sure not to take it before bed to avoid another potential restless night.
Since sleep loss is such a stressor on the body, you don’t want to add in other stressors on top. If you have a HIIT or RET workout planned, you might consider going lighter with a gentle yoga class or a long walk. This can help you to feel rejuvenated by increasing blood flow and boosting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that supports brain function, without over-stressing your body. Extra added bonus if you can get outside in nature!
Even if you can’t guarantee that you are spending 20% of your slumber in deep sleep, you can take important steps to ensure you wake up rested, energized and ready to take on the day. As we age this can take more of a concerted effort, but it’s absolutely possible. And remember, you are worth it.