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Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may improve sleep quality

April 1, 2014

A new study from the UK suggests higher blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid seem to be associated with less bedtime resistance and total sleep disturbance in children.

The randomized controlled trial measured blood concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 long-chain poly- unsaturated fatty acids of 362 healthy seven to nine year old school children who received a daily 600 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or placebo for four months and whose parents were asked to rate their child’s sleep habits over a typical week (1). The study results showed that the supplementation with DHA resulted in higher blood levels of DHA, which were significantly associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias (sleep disorders that range from night terrors to sleep paralysis to bedwetting) and total sleep disturbance. Children with increased intakes of DHA had nearly one hour more sleep and seven fewer waking episodes per night compared with the children taking the placebo. Higher ratios of DHA in relation to the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) are also associated with fewer sleep problems. A total of 40% of the children had clinical-level sleep problems, such as resistance to bedtime, anxiety about sleep and constant waking in the course of the night.

The researchers commented that 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, lower ratios of DHA – the main omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain – have been linked with lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle (2). Previous studies showed that blood levels of DHA in this ge- neral population of seven to nine year olds were alarmingly low overall, and this could be directly linked to children’s behavior and learning problems probably caused by poor sleep.

References

  1. Montgomery P. et al. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: Subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Sleep Research. Published online March 2014.
  2. Zeman M. et al. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in psychiatric diseases: mechanisms and clinical data. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2012; 33(8):736-748.