How omega 3s can aid sleep for the whole family

You may have heard of all the powerful protections and benefits of consuming foods containing omega 3 fatty acids. This includes its ability to reduce inflammation and blood pressure, raise levels of good cholesterol, lower the risk of some cancers, guard against premature aging, boost calcium levels, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Let’s not forget the important benefits during pregnancy. One of the omega 3s called DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, assists in the brain and central nervous development of your foetus. Higher levels of maternal omega 3s during pregnancy are linked to better cognitive development, such as stronger language skills, IQ, and visual motor skills.

As you can see, these healthy fats sure do deliver a plethora of health benefits, but there has also been some increasing attention to the potential benefits of omega 3s for sleep. What parent doesn’t want to optimise theirs and their baby’s sleep!

What are omega 3s and where can I get them?

Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as essential fats. Your body can’t produce them, so your supply must come from food or in supplement form. There are three main types of omega 3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and AHA (alpha-linolenic acid).

EPA and DHA are found primarily in fish, and include:

  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

 

AHA is found primarily in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, plus some leafy green vegetables and grass-fed animal fats, including:

  • Walnuts
  • Linseed/flaxseed oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil

How Omega 3s can aid sleep for the whole family

There is still a lot of research to be done on the ways omega 3s impact sleep, but this is what we know about the connection for the whole family so far:

For adults:

Research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids from regularly consuming fish may boost your sleep quality and help you fall asleep more quickly. DHA stimulates melatonin, which is the sleepy hormone. Melatonin helps the body prepare for sleep by sending signals to the body that it’s time for rest, helps you relax, and reduces hormones that stimulate alertness, such as the stress hormone cortisol.

Omega 3s may help people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) due to their ability to reduce inflammation. Low levels of DHA are associated with greater severity of OSA. There isn’t enough research yet, but scientists are exploring a causal link between the two.

During pregnancy:

Recent research has found a significant link between low levels of DHA and poor sleep in pregnant women. The research findings have even extended to an association between low levels of DHA and higher inflammation and shorter lengths of gestation.

For your newborn:

The sleep benefits of omega 3s during pregnancy aren’t just for your sleep. Studies show that children who are exposed to greater amounts of DHA in utero will go on to have stronger sleep patterns as newborns.

For your children:

Omega 3s are also linked to better sleep in children. Recent research has suggested that supplementing a child’s diet with DHA can improve their sleep.

Should I take an Omega 3 supplement?

The Heart Foundation recommends that all Australians should aim to include 2-3 serves of fish (following the advice on mercury in fish for pregnant women) per week (EPA, DHA) plus one gram of plant-sourced omega 3 (ALA) each day. For children up to 14, one small serve of fish plus two small cans of tuna a week will provide an adequate intake of omega 3s. Supplements will provide people who do not eat fish with some level of marine-sourced omega 3s. #

  • If you’re pregnant, you can take a prenatal supplement that contains DHA. The third trimester is when DHA absorption is at its greatest.
  • There are many omega 3 supplements aimed at babies and children, so if and when you decide on one, ensure that it isn’t full of artificial additives.

Before taking any supplements, it is always advised that you seek advice from your GP, obstetrician, dietitian, naturopath, or lactation consultant.

Breus, M. Dr, 2018, For Better Sleep, Eat More Fish!, The Sleep Doctor. Ockwell-Smith, 2015, The Gentle Sleep Book, A Guide For Calm Babies, Toddlers, and Pre-Schoolers, Platkus, United Kingdom.

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