By this point, I’ve been on keto for long enough (over 2.5 years – hold on lemme check… 1,020 days, according to MyFitnessPal) that my life Before Keto seems like a weird, distant memory compared to now, On Keto.
One of the biggest changes: my sleep. I almost forget sometimes how awful my sleep used to be, and how astronomically different it was from how it is now.
You guys, I had some fucked up fucking sleep habits. Starting in about freshman year of high school, I just could. not. fall asleep at night…which is really rough when you have to be up at 6 to be at school by 7:30, except for once a week when school starts at 8:30…but your mom still drives you to school and her schedule only allows for an extra 10 minutes of sleeping in. So you take a teenager, already going through the hellacious hormonal changes associated with the time, and then you add chronic sleep deprivation on top of it – it wasn’t pretty.
But my sleep problems were soon clearly revealed to be more than just regular Teenage Sleepiness. Sure, some of my friends went to bed late… but they didn’t stay awake until 3 or 4 every night, begging for sleep, tossing and turning and UNABLE to get any. They didn’t get home from school at 3 and immediately nap until dinner at 6 (the only way I could catch up even a little). They didn’t spend 90% of the weekend asleep – sometimes sleeping for 20+ hours at a time, only getting up to pee once and then heading straight back to bed. They weren’t prescribed sleeping pill after sleeping pill with horrible side effects and minimal payoff.
I slept like a damn alien.
I was misdiagnosed as being an insomniac for a long time, because doctors heard “I can’t fall asleep at night” and paid attention to the “I can’t fall asleep” part and completely ignored “at night” part. I could, clearly, sleep for a full 8 hours – just not at socially convenient or acceptable times.
It got worse and worse as the years went on – college was a nightmare; some of my required classes were only available at 9:35 am, and my brain wouldn’t wake up until 11 or 12. I once set my alarm for 8 am…. and woke up at 5:30 pm. I tried every alarm you could think of – super loud, super long, solving math problem (I can solve 80+ math problems and go back to sleep), shaking my phone, solving puzzles, scanning barcodes, getting up to take a picture of something in another room, you name it. It didn’t help. I’d sleep through it, or immediately go back to sleep and awake later, with no memory of having disabled the alarm. Left to my own devices on holidays, I’d go to bed 2ish hours later each day, and wake up 2ish hours later each day… cycling around the clock every 2 weeks. I *firmly* believe that I fit the criteria for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder as well as Non-24 Hour Sleep Wake Disorder, but I was never formally diagnosed (because money and insurance). Imagine living with permanent 4-hour jet lag. It never goes away, and sometimes it gets worse. That was my life for about 9 years.
It was extremely hard on me, but it was also really hard on my family. My parents tried to understand, but they just didn’t *get* it, especially my dad. I’d get mad that he wasn’t quiet enough while I was trying to sleep, he’d get mad that I’d blame him for waking me up (and mad that I couldn’t just be awake like a normal person during the day). It was ugly. It was hard. I’d be awake all night, trying to keep myself entertained in silence, often eating breakfast with my mom and watching the sun rise from our roof before going to sleep for the day. I once watched the sunrise every day for 2 weeks over the summer…and then headed to bed. It was my “bedtime”ritual.
When I started keto, I won’t bullshit you. It wasn’t for sleep. It had noooooothiiiiiiiiiing to do with sleep. It was to lose weight, pure and simple. I didn’t expect in my wildest dreams (ha) that cutting out carbs would have any effect on my sleeping pattern: to my knowledge, I’d tried every medicine available to me, short of an extremely strong anti-psychotic(? or convulsant? idk) that my shrink warned me could leave me with permanent muscle tics (I still considered it. That’s how desperate I was). I resigned myself to the idea I’d always have horrible sleep – my best option was to learn to live with it, probably have to work jobs from home or overnight shifts for my whole life, and deal with the fact that that’s the hand I’d been dealt. My brain was wired wrong and I’d never sleep normally. I figured the least I could do was be thinner, though. No use having fucked up sleep and a fucked up body.
AND THEN KETO WAS LIKE “HEEEEEY GUESS WHAT. I’LL ACTUALLY FIX BOTH.”
In my first month on keto, I only pulled one allnighter – not a studying thing, but a stay-up-all-night-and-all-day thing in a (usually failed) attempt to fix my sleep – and that was only because I’d had to go to Urgent Care at 9pm for a shot of epi (but that’s a story for a different time). Before keto, I’d pull allnighters at least once a week. So from 4 a month….to 1…. in one month…. I was astonished. The effects were almost immediate.
There was no literature connecting DSPD and a low carb diet as a fix for symptoms. None. There were testimonials from other ketoers about how they slept better, or had more energy – but I couldn’t find any explanation for why it worked to fix my sleep. But it worked for me. I sleep like a normal fucking human being now.
Sure, sometimes I stay up until 3am, and sleep until 11 – but it only takes 1 alarm to wake me up. I can get up at 9 every day if I want (or earlier! But I don’t want that). I can go to sleep like a normal person and sleep through the night. I’m still a night owl, but I’m not… an alien. It’s worked for my boyfriend, too – he has/d roughly the same sleep issues (it’s part of how we first became friends, back in the day; he was actually the one who told me the name of DSPD for the first time. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, or that other people had it). He’d starting losing weight with CICO but switched to keto partly because of my sleep benefits (and partly because of Mission low carb tortillas, I think :P). He sleeps like a human being now, too. Anecdotal? Of course. Small sample size? THE SMALLEST. But here we are, a happy keto couple, sleeping like normal people… and waking up at normal times for our bacon breakfasts 😉
And this benefit, more than any other, is why I fully intend to stay keto/lchf for the rest of my life. It’s not (just) about maintaining weight loss – it’s about sleeping the way humans are meant to sleep.