Do long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have a role to play in improving sleep among children? What is the relationship between blood fatty acid concentrations and subjective sleep?
A randomized controlled trial study of 395 healthy children aged 7–9 years from mainstream UK schools examined the association between blood fatty acid concentrations (from fingerstick blood samples) and subjective sleep (using an age-standardized parent questionnaire). The study titled “Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial” also explored whether a 16-week supplementation (600 mg day) with algal DHA versus placebo could improve children’s sleep in a subset of 362 children who were underperforming in reading. Plus, an objective assessment of sleep through actigraphy was also done in a randomly selected sample of 43 children.
Though not conclusive, the results seemed to lend credence to the suggestion that higher blood levels of DHA may relate to better child sleep (as rated by parents). Higher blood DHA status was associated significantly with better sleep among the children assessed even when controlled for demographic variables.
The pilot actigraphy subsample results indicated significant group differences post the DHA supplement. Sleep duration improved by 58 min in children receiving active treatment versus placebo. Higher sleep efficiency was also recorded in this group, with fewer and shorter night waking.
As the authors themselves concede, these findings should be interpreted with caution. The results are preliminary and the numbers of relationships tested do not lend themselves to statistically significant results. Yet, this study has strengths that merit further investigation to substantiate the findings. For one, its large, non-clinical sample of children is a fair representative of the general population of UK children aged 7–9 years. Secondly, the use of fingerstick blood samples is an objective measurement of blood fatty acid status. And thirdly, sleep assessment was done both subjectively and objectively.
The improvements in sleep found in this study could be clinically important and, if replicated, may be expected to lead to significant benefits in physical health, mood, behavior, cognition and academic performance in children.
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