Can omega 3 help to improve your sleep?


Marianna Kilburn
@MariannaKilburn


26 March 2018

What does omega 3 do?

Omega 3 has been the focus of a lot of praise over the past few decades but what is this nutrient and what does it do for your body?

Well, starting with the basics; as our nutritionist Emma notes in her blog, ‘What are omega fatty acids?’ omega 3 is an essential fatty acid usually found in our food where it appears as Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Each of these variations has their own specific functions, but overall, omega-3 is considered to be pivotal for healthy brain development and cognitive function, although it has also been linked to lower cholesterol, combatting inflammation and promoting healthy metabolism.

How does it help your sleep patterns?

Omega 3 is often recommended as a supplement for children and numerous studies have outlined the benefits – formulas enriched with DHA have great results for hand-eye coordination, children with ADHD are thought to have lower levels of omega-3 in their bodies and one study even found that omega 3 may help to reduce inflammation in the airways which could benefit asthmatics!1

However, last year the University of Oxford investigated how omega 3 might help to promote healthier sleep patterns for children. Over 350 children between the ages of 7 and 9 were involved in the study, which found that those that took omega 3 supplements managed to get almost a full hour of sleep more than children in the placebo group.

While this is an overwhelmingly positive result in omega 3s favour, how well do these benefits translate if you’re an adult? The lead author of the study seemed to think that omega 3 may help adults too, citing that research has already found that DHA helps with the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

In 2008, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition went into more detail about this relationship, finding that diets that were low in omega 3 fatty acids weakened the secretion of melatonin, affecting your circadian rhythm and even interrupting normal sleep patterns.2 

Omega 3 can also help to regulate your levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that is released as part of your stress response by your sympathetic nervous system. Surprisingly, norepinephrine is essential for your sleep patterns, helping to bring about REM sleep. However, too much norepinephrine can disrupt your sleep and reduce your REM sleep which is where an omega 3 supplement like fish oil can be useful.

What are the best sources of omega 3?

While all of this research looks promising, it’s important to consider that further studies are needed. If you are looking to increase your intake of omega 3, here at A.Vogel, we would always recommend looking towards your diet first before thinking about supplements.

DHA and EPA are readily available in oily fish like mackerel and salmon but, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, getting enough omega 3 may pose a problem. Fortunately, ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA within the body and this particular form of omega 3 is more widespread in plant-based sources such as;

  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Mungo beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Wild rice
  • Berries

It’s also important, if you’re considering your levels of omega 3, to contemplate your intake of omega 6. Omega 6 is another beneficial fatty acid, however, as with most things, too much of it can make you more vulnerable to inflammation. Try to achieve an optimal balance between these two essential fatty acids – ideally you should be aiming for a ratio of 4:1, around 4 omega 6 fatty acids for every serving of omega 3.

1https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/who-needs-omega-3s#2

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716175

3https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/10/05/these-neurotransmitters-are-probably-keeping-you-up-at-night/#4d746e8e1228

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