Omega-3s May Help Children Sleep Better

By Craig Weatherby, Fooduciary

Evidence continues to grow that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids bring myriad benefits to children. Conversely, diets low in omega-3s seem to deter optimal child development and behavior control. The most recent study on this subject came from researchers behind the DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour, conducted by researchers from Britain's University of Oxford. Now, more findings from the DOLAB study suggest that omega-3s from seafood or supplements could improve sleep quality in children.

Omega-3 DHA linked to better sleep in children

The DOLAB research project took a two-phase approach to examining the effects of omega-3s on children's sleep quality (Montgomery P. et al., September 4, 2013). And the findings from both phases of the study suggest that omega-3s'particularly DHA 'improve sleep quality in children.

Phase I: Compare omega-3 levels to perceived sleep quality

The Oxford team compared parents' perceptions of their children's sleep quality with the kids' blood levels of omega-3s (EPA and DHA).

As lead author Professor Paul Montgomery said, "We ended up with a sample of 395 where we had both child sleep health questionnaire data and blood data. This is a large number for any study of this kind." In fact, the analysis linked low blood levels of omega-3 DHA to poor sleep quality and a higher risk of sleep disorders.

Phase II: Controlled clinical trial

The Oxford group then conducted a clinical trial (randomized, placebo-controlled) among 15 percent of the children, to test the effects of omega-3 DHA supplements on sleep.

Children involved in the trial were asked to wear wrist-watch-style sensors (actigraphs) that measure sleep for about five days at the start of the trial and again after taking either omega-3 DHA supplements or placebo capsules.

The results showed that supplemental DHA had significant positive effects on both sleep quantity and quality.

Dr. Montgomery was impressed, saying, "Importantly, they were awake for less [throughout the night]. They were asleep for 46 minutes more. I'm struck by the size and the scale of this." He found the findings "highly significant," and said it was "striking" to see how many children had sleep disorders, and that blood levels of omega-3 DHA predicted sleep-quality scores very significantly.

As Dr. Montgomery said, "We have got far less waking during the night. We've got more sleeping, and more efficient sleeping as the ratio of time in bed to time asleep is significantly improved."

Although the clinical trial results are preliminary and require confirmation, he noted that they dovetail with the epidemiological findings: "... this is a relatively small sample [for the trial], but it ties in well with the subjective results from parents which are from a much larger sample."

The Oxford team also said that their findings also confirmed prior research linking sleep disorders to behavioral problems. "As sleep problems increased, so did behavioral problems," said Montgomery. "We know that sleep is very important for behavior. But what has not been shown [until now] is what fatty acids might have to do with it."