Improving Children’s Sleep with Omega 3

Higher Levels of Omega 3 Tied to Better Sleep in Kids
By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 11, 2014

In a new Oxford study, children who took omega-3 DHA supplements for 16 weeks started sleeping nearly an hour longer each night and had fewer waking episodes.

The two-phased study analyzed the sleep of 362 healthy UK school children (ages seven to nine) in relation to their blood levels of omega-3 and omega-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA).

The child participants were not chosen for sleep problems, but rather because they were struggling readers at a mainstream primary school. Previous research has shown an association between poor sleep and low blood omega-3 LC-PUFA in infants and in children and adults with behavior or learning difficulties.

This is the first study to investigate the links between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children.

At the beginning of the study, parents filled out a sleep questionnaire, which revealed that four in 10 of the children in the study had clinical-level sleep problems, such as resistance to bedtime, anxiety about sleep and constant waking in the course of the night. Researchers then placed wrist sensors on 43 of the children with poor sleep in order to monitor their movements in bed over five nights.

“To find clinical level sleep problems in four in 10 of this general population sample is a cause for concern,” said lead author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., of Oxford University.

“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 findings showed that the children put on a course of 600 mg supplements of omega-3 (algal sources) had nearly one hour (58 minutes) more sleep and seven fewer waking episodes per night compared with the children taking the corn or soybean placebo.

Higher blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 DHA (the main omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain) were significantly associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnias, and total sleep disturbance.

Also, higher ratios of DHA in relation to the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) were also associated with fewer sleep problems.

“Previous studies we have published showed that blood levels of omega-3 DHA in this general population sample of seven to nine-year-olds were alarmingly low overall, and this could be directly related to the children’s behavior and learning,” said co-investigator Dr. Alex Richardson of Oxford University. “Poor sleep could well help to explain some of those associations.”

“Further research is needed given the small number of children involved in the pilot study. Larger studies using objective sleep measures, such as further actigraphy using wrist sensors, are clearly warranted. However, this randomized controlled trial does suggest that children’s sleep can be improved by DHA supplements and indicates yet another benefit of higher levels of omega-3 in the diet.”

5 thoughts on “Improving Children’s Sleep with Omega 3”

  1. I found this article to be very interesting. I think that it is always important to stay abreast medical research even if pharmaceutical aspects of health aren’t your specialty. In occupational therapy, sleep and rest are considered major parts of a persons daily routine. Although this may seem obvious, it is sometimes easy to forget how important rest and sleep are to other activities people participate in. With this knowledge an OT could recommend that a client ask their physician about Omega 3 and DHA. This is not a specialty of OT but one of our roles is advocacy and this could be just the right amount of advocacy for a client to have an improvement in their rest and sleep.

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  2. This was a very interesting article. I’ve never really thought about what causes sleep problems, but I know many people who do have them. Although, more studies need to be done on this topic, Omega 3 levels in children may be an important aspect of what causes sleep problems.

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  3. This is an interesting topic. I’m curious if the omega- 3 also helped the children in the classroom. With more rest I would hypothesize that maybe the kids could concentrate and follow along better. A good or bad night sleep can have a big impact on one’s day. A larger study would be interesting to see the results.

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  4. This is an interesting topic because like Amanda I feel that there are a lot of people who report having a problem sleeping. Personally I know a child who has a problem sleeping through the night and he does currently take omega 3 daily in addition to melatonin. However, his mom has not noticed a huge difference in sleep schedule after beginning the omega 3 so it would be a good topic for more people to research.

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  5. Interesting article. I have already had clients who reported that they have had difficulty sleeping. This is an article I can refer them to in the future. Although it would be nice for some follow up research to be done as well.

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