Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly derived from fish oils, including tuna and salmon, and they have been linked to numerous health benefits. But now, a new study suggests that having higher levels of omega-3 DHA is associated with better sleep.
The researchers, from the University of Oxford in the UK, have published results of their study in the Journal of Sleep Research.
They conducted their research in 362 children from the UK between the ages of 7 and 9 years old, who were not recruited based on sleep problems.
According to the study, sleep problems in children are associated with poor health and behavioral and cognitive problems, the same health issues associated with deficiencies of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
As such, the team investigated whether taking 600 mg supplements of omega-3 DHA would improve sleep.
To begin, the team had parents and carers rate their child’s sleep habits during a typical week, which revealed that 40% of the children had clinical-level sleep problems, including resistance to bedtime, anxiety about sleep and waking in the middle of the night.
Wrist sensors were then fitted to 43 of the children with sleep problems to monitor their movements as they slept over 5 nights. Additionally, the team recorded levels of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the children, using fingerstick blood samples.
Though previous studies have suggested associations between poor sleep and low blood omega-3 levels in infants and children with behavior or learning difficulties, the researchers say to their knowledge, this is the first study to assess links between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children.
Results of the study revealed that, compared with the children who took the corn or soybean placebo, children who were taking daily omega-3 supplements experienced nearly 1 hour more sleep each night.
Additionally, they experienced seven fewer walking episodes per night, compared with the placebo group.
The team also found that fewer sleep problems are associated with higher ratios of DHA in relation to the long-chain omega-6 fatty arachidonic acid (AA).
Lead study author Prof. Paul Montgomery says:
“To find clinical level sleep problems in 4 in 10 of this general population is a cause for concern. Various substances made within the body from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have long been known to play key roles in the regulation of sleep.”
“For example,” he adds, “lower ratios of DHA have been linked with lower levels of melatonin, and that would fit with our finding that sleep problems are greater in children with lower levels of DHA in their blood.”
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