Researchers at Oxford University are proposing that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) may be important for healthy sleep patterns, after children in their recent study who took DHA supplements for 16 weeks began waking up fewer times and sleeping for almost an hour longer each night.
The children, between seven and nine years old, had been selected for the study because they were struggling with reading in school. About 40% of the children also had problems sleeping. Sleep deficiency and low levels omega-3 fatty acids—found in oily fish, nuts and seeds—have both been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems in children in the past, but this new study is the first to directly connect fatty acid levels to sleep habits.
Children with the lowest levels of DHA and the highest levels of arachidonic acid—an omega-6 fatty acid found in refined vegetable oils and processed foods—appeared to have slightly poorer sleep overall. After taking 600 mg of a DHA supplement (derived from algae) for 16 weeks, children woke up, on average, 7 fewer times per night, and slept 58 minutes longer. Although this is only a small pilot study, the findings are very intriguing. They provide a possible explanation for the effects of DHA on learning and behavior, and also a promising, safe approach to helping children—and maybe the rest of us—get the sleep we need.
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(Source: Journal of Sleep Research, 2014; doi:10.1111/jsr.12135)