Better Sleep Linked to Higher Levels of Omega-3 in Diet

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New research from the University of Oxford suggests that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid — primarily found in certain fish such sat tuna and salmon — are associated with better sleep in children. The study is published in the Journal of Sleep Research [1].

DHA Omega 3 Fatty Acid

Omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an essential (meaning the body requires it for good health but can’t make it), long-chain fatty acid that has many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a range of conditions including cancer, dementia, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists at the University of Oxford recently examined the associations between blood fatty acid concentrations (from fingerstick blood samples) and subjective sleep in 395 healthy children in the UK aged 7-9 years. Parents filled in a child sleep questionnaire, which revealed that 4 in 10 of the children suffered from regular sleep disturbances.

A randomly selected subset of 43 children rated as having poor sleep were fitted with wrist sensors to monitor their movements in bed over five nights. Children placed on a course of daily supplements of omega-3 DHA had 58 minutes more sleep and seven fewer waking episodes per night compared to children taking corn or soybean placebo.

The researchers found that higher blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 DHA (the main omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain) and a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acid to omega-6 fatty acid were significantly associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias (disruptive sleep disorders that range from night terrors to sleep paralysis to bedwetting) and total sleep disturbance.

Lead author Professor Paul Montgomery of Oxford University said:

To find clinical level sleep problems in four in 10 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.

Although this was an exploratory pilot study of limited sample size, the result from the randomized controlled trial suggests that children’s sleep can be improved by DHA supplements and indicates another benefit of higher levels of omega-3 in the diet.

Source: University of Oxford


  1. Montgomery et al. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res. 2014 Mar 8. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12135. [Epub ahead of print]
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About the Author

Jenny Jessen is a senior writer at Highlight HEALTH.