A new pilot study indicates increasing children's intake of omega-3 fatty acids may improve their sleep.

The study from the University of Oxford is said to be the first to analyze the potential link between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children. Findings will be published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Researchers provided 362 children from 74 Oxford primary schools with either daily 600-milligram supplements of algal sources or a placebo over a 16-week period to determine if sleep would improve.

Participants were between 7 and 9 years old. The children weren't selected based on sleep issues, although all had problems with reading.
Previous research
has shown an increase in omega-3 consumption can improve children's ability to concentrate, read and spell in addition to lowering disruptive behaviour.

At the beginning of the study, parents filled out a questionnaire, with results revealing that four in ten of the children dealt with regular sleep disturbances. The researchers fitted the 43 children rated as poor sleepers with wrist sensors that monitored movements in bed over five nights.

The study found children who took the daily omega-3 supplements enjoyed 58 minutes more sleep and seven fewer awakenings per night than those who took the placebo. Higher blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 DHA were linked to improved sleep, including "less bedtime resistance, parasomnias and total sleep disturbance."

"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," said lead study author Professor Paul Montgomery of Oxford University. "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."

While further research is needed given the relatively small number of participants, researchers say that if the study results are confirmed implications will be "profound" for children struggling with behavioral and learning issues.

Omega-3s are associated with a number of other health benefits, including their ability to lower blood pressure.

A study announced this week and published in the American Journal of Hypertension found omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are as effective, if not more so, in lowering blood pressure than commonly recommended lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, consuming less sodium and drinking less alcohol.