When we think of insomnia, we generally think of adults, stressed by grown-up problems that keep us up or wake us mid-sleep, generally wreaking havoc on sleeping patterns. But a surprising number of children suffer from sleep problems too, and a new study suggests an omega-3 fatty acid may be just the thing to help.
According to the study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, sleep problems were found in 40 percent of the 362 children involved. These were measured by a “well-validated” questionnaire given to parents, quantifying how often the children woke, how long they slept, and their resistance and anxiety surrounding bedtime.
The children who experienced the most sleep problems were also those with the lowest levels of long-chain omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in their blood samples.
“To find clinical level sleep problems in four in ten of this general population sample is a cause for concern,” says lead author Professor Paul Montgomery 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.”
Forty-three of the children who were identified as having sleep problems were outfitted with wrist sensors to monitor their sleep habits at night. Half began a supplement regimen of omega-3 DHA derived from marine algae.
The study abstract concluded:
“Cautiously, we conclude that higher blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid may relate to better child sleep, as rated by parents. Exploratory pilot objective evidence from actigraphy suggests that docosahexaenoic acid supplementation may improve children’s sleep, but further investigations are needed.”
These children experienced an increase of nightly sleep by about one hour and had seven fewer waking episodes than the placebo group.
“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,” says co-researcher Dr. Alex Richardson.
“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 randomised 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.”
Of course upping DHA levels is just one potential solution for insomnia. Other tips for insomnia include:
- Herbs like lavender or California poppy
- Turning the lights off completely
- Increasing magnesium levels, as magnesium plays a part in preventing diabetes, insomnia, and more