Poor sleep can be a sign of omega-3 deficiency, research finds.
Poor sleep can also cause cognitive and behavioural problems and general poor health.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega‐3 fatty acids found in algae, fish and other seafoods and it is a major structural fat in the brain and retina of the eye.
Higher blood levels of DHA are associated with better sleep, fewer sleep disturbances and less parasomnias, including abnormal movements during sleep, nightmares and sleepwalking.
A study on a group of children with poor sleep shows that 16 weeks daily supplementation with 600 mg of DHA from algal sources had considerably restored their sleep.
It also lowered problems like sleep anxiety, resistance to bedtime, and continual waking through the night.
Children who were supplemented with omega-3 DHA had one hour more sleep and seven fewer wake episodes each night.
Low levels of DHA are associated with lower levels of melatonin, a hormone mainly produced in the brain, which regulates the sleep–wake cycle.
The sleep–wake cycle maintains sleep rhythm: leading to going to sleep regularly each night and waking up at a regular time every morning.
Professor Paul Montgomery, lead author of the study,said:
“To find clinical level sleep problems in four in ten of this general population sample 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, 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.”
The balance of omega-3 DHA and omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) in the pineal gland of our brain is important for the regulation of melatonin production.
Increased DHA to omega-6 fatty acid AA ratios increase the secretion of melatonin and so can reduce sleep problems.
Dr Alex Richardson, study co-author, said:
“Previous studies we have published showed that blood levels of omega-3 DHA in this general population sample of 7-9 year olds were alarmingly low overall, and this could be directly related to the children’s behavior and learning.
Poor sleep could well help to explain some of those associations.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in the Journal of Sleep Research (Montgomery et al., 2014).