SYDNEY: The Atkins Diet may give people bad dreams, a new study suggests, putting another nail in the coffin of the already ailing diet fad.
“Even though people sleep better while on the Atkins Diet, there are unwanted side effects,” Chin Moi Chow, a sleep researcher at the University of Sydney, told the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association in Perth on Friday. “These symptoms include: a slow start to the day, being tired or sleepy during the day, irritability, craving sugar, difficulty with concentration and making decisions.”
Fifteen healthy, normal sleepers followed a conventional low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for the first day of the study before following the Atkins Diet for three consecutive days.
The Atkins regimen requires people to eat a high-protein, high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet. Atkins dieters are able to shed kilograms quickly because the diet causes blood glucose levels to drop, forcing the body to produce energy from other food sources, so the body begins to burn fat, said Chow. This fat-burning process, also called ketosis, develops after three days of being on the diet.
Chow said the popularity of the diet prompted her and colleagues to find out how the Atkins Diet affects sleep. “It’s very popular in America. Restaurants have menus based on the diet. With that being the case, we wanted to know how the Atkins Diet affects sleep.”
“We were surprised by the data,” Chow told Cosmos Online. “The sleep changes occurred immediately on the first night when the first (Atkins) meal was taken. This sleep pattern was consistent until day three – it’s not ketosis because it does not develop until day three – so it had to be because of the diet.”
Chow said one of the more notable sleep changes involved a two-and-a-half fold increase in the number of dreams people recalled. Subjects filled out questionnaires detailing the number of dreams they recalled and the nature of these dreams.
Subjects usually failed to recall the content of their dreams, only remembering the emotions they felt in the dream, said Chow. Most of the dreams were reported as being unpleasant, but not classified as nightmares.
For example, Chow recalled one man who had an unpleasant dream consisting of being chased before awaking mid-dream.
Chow believes subjects may have remembered their dreams better because they “were aroused from sleep more often when on the Atkins Diet.” Subjects may not have had more dreams than a person on a normal diet, but it may simply be that they were able to remember their dreams better after spontaneously awaking during the night.
In the future, Chow and her colleagues would like to continue to study the effects of the Atkins Diet on sleep, but she realises that the diet industry may be shifting toward more traditional, low-fat diets. “If the trend for diets is changing, then it’s not appropriate to continue research on the Atkins Diet.”