A recent study from the University of Oxford found that supplementing with long-chain omega-3, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in particular, was association with longer sleep duration (58 minutes per night) and fewer wake episodes in a group of children (J Sleep Res. 2014 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print]). Higher DHA levels in the blood may also relate to better sleep among children, based on parent-rated observations.
The study was conducted in two parts, an observation portion and a randomized controlled trial. The observation study looked 395 healthy children between the ages of seven and nine from mainstream schools in the United Kingdom. A fingerstick blood sample was taken and a subjective sleep questionnaire was completed by the parent or caregiver. The scores from the observation study indicated that 40 percent of the children has clinical-level sleep problems. Higher levels of DHA in the blood were associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance, parasomnia and total sleep disturbance. Higher ratios of DHA and the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid ARA (arachidonic acid) were also associated with less sleep disturbance.
The randomized, controlled trial looked at whether 16-week supplementation (600 mg/day) with DHA from algae (life'sDHA from DSM) verses a placebo would improve sleep in 362 children ages seven through nine recruited from mainstream schools in Oxfordshire, U.K. who were underperforming in reading. Sleep patterns were assessed in a random subgroup of 43 children by actigraphy (a non-invasive way of monitoring rest and activity cycles) and sleep diaries kept by the children's parents. The following variables were measured by actigraphy over five nights:
- Sleep onset and offset times;
- Sleep duration in minutes;
- Minutes awake between sleep onset and offset;
- Sleep efficiency (total sleep time divided by time in bed);
- Sleep latency (minutes needed to fall asleep);
- Number of wakings after sleep onset.
The treatment trial did not show significant effects on sleep measures reported by parent questionnaires, but algal DHA supplementation did lead to an average of seven fewer wake episodes and 58 more minutes of sleep per night in the subgroup of children measured by actigraphy.