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- About omega-3 fatty acids
- Research on the benefits of omega-3 for quality, restful sleep
- Research that has shown mixed or incomplete results on omega-3 + sleep
- Other potential health benefits of omega-3
- Dosage at which benefits have been shown
- Forms of omega-3
- Side effects
- The bottom line
- How omega-3 stacks up to other natural sleep ingredients
Here at Proper, we 🤓 nerd 🤓 out over the science of sleep. Years of rigorous research went into developing products to directly support aspects of the mind and body that impact sleep quality. Our PhD-led formulations team looked for ingredients backed by multiple human clinical studies that verified the efficacy of the ingredient itself AND its dosage—with no conflicting findings. All were double-blind and placebo-controlled.
We’ve taken this same vigor and applied it here, to our ingredient guides that evaluate what the science says (and doesn’t say) about various vitamins, minerals, and herbs/natural botanicals. Some are in our products, others aren’t. The goal? Equip you with the know-how to make the most informed decisions for your personal sleep journey.
When you hear the term “healthy fats” in reference to foods such as olive oil, avocados, sardines, chia seeds, and nuts, omega-3s are to thank. There are three main types of these long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids to keep in mind. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are primarily found in fish, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is abundant in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats are not to be confused with saturated fats, which are derived primarily from animal sources of food such as poultry, red meat, and full-fat dairy.
- DHA improves quality + quantity of sleep
Research suggests regularly consuming omega-3 fatty acids may boost sleep quality, decrease time to fall asleep, and improve daytime performance. (1-2)
- DHA stimulates melatonin
Research shows that low levels of DHA cause melatonin deficiency. (3) This is a hormone our bodies naturally produce to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Quantities increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours.
- Omega-3s may help people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, which may make these fatty acids especially crucial to people with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder marked by abnormal breathing (specifically extended pauses in breath). Clinical trials also indicate that increasing DHA levels reduces risks for severe OSA. (4-6)
- Omega-3s may aid sleep during pregnancy
Research shows a significant link between low levels of DHA and poor sleep in pregnant women. DHA is also crucial to fetal development, particularly the brain and central nervous system. (7-9)
Omega-3 has been extensively studied, but not all clinical trials have yielded consistent results for all populations. For example, select observational and experimental studies have shown that omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) do not improve the sleep quality of adults suffering from chronic insomnia, (10) nor does it positively impact the frequency of sleep disturbances in menopausal women. (11) It should also be noted that many studies evaluate the impact of omega-3 in whole fish form rather than oil-based supplement form.
- Supports heart health
DHA and EPA lower elevated triglyceride levels (i.e. cholesterol or blood fat), which reduces the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (i.e. heart disease) and stroke.
- Supports brain health in adults (12)
In fact, DHA is the most abundant of all the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain.
READ MORE: The Relationship Between Sleep Problems + Memory/Alzheimer’s Disease
- Supports eye health
The body’s highest concentration of DHA is found in the retina, making it critical for eye health, including the prevention of macular degeneration and ability to see under different lighting conditions. (13)
Proper formulations directly support aspects of the mind + body that impact sleep quality.
The fact that a supplement contains an ingredient is only one half of the equation. It’s also necessary to ensure that the ingredient is included at the dosage levels in which it has been proven effective. This is particularly true for omega-3 supplements; it’s advised to closely read the label in order to identify the concentration of EPA and DHA, which could be lower than the amount of fish oil (confusing, we know).
According to the National Institute of Health, (14) the adequate intakes (AIs) for omega-3s are as follows:
19-51+ years old: 1.6 g for males + 1.1 grams for females
This is exclusively for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a precursor to DHA and EPA and, as such, is considered the only “essential” omega-3.
Note that the numbers are slightly higher for pregnant women at 1.4 grams.
Natural fish oil (from the tissue of oily fish) can be found in supplement form via capsules or liquid. In addition to the common fish oil supplements, you can find krill oil, cod liver oil, and vegan algal oil. This is the closest you’ll get to the nutrients derived from whole fish.
Omega-3 in food
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are abundantly found in whole fish, specifically salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, tuna, oysters, and herring. Non-fish forms of omega-3 include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. In this form, you’re getting free fatty acids, phospholipids, and triglycerides.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), omega-3 supplementation (EPA + DHA) is safe as long as it doesn’t exceed 3,000 mg per day. (15) Above that, there’s a risk of blood thinning/excessive bleeding. Also, it should be noted that certain omega-3 supplements contain high levels of vitamin A, which can be toxic in high amounts.
Healthcare providers don’t typically test for omega-3 deficiency. However, if you notice any symptoms (e.g., irritated skin, hair thinning/loss, dry eyes, joint pain/stiffness), it may be worth talking to your doctor. And when it comes to sleep, preliminary evidence suggests that there may be benefits. That said, most research has shown benefits on sleep quality and quantity for the general population. If you are suffering from a specific sleep disorder or are experiencing hormonal shifts during the menopause transition that are disrupting sleep, it’s worth considering alternative sleep solutions.
Interested in exploring alternative natural ingredients, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements for better sleep and overall wellness? We’ve got you covered:
- Does Lemon Balm Help With Sleep?
- Does Vitamin B6 Help With Sleep?
- Does Chamomile Help With Sleep?
- Does Magnesium Help With Sleep?
- Does Vitamin D Help With Sleep?
- Guide To GABA For Better Sleep
- GABA vs Melatonin For Sleep
- Guide To Ashwagandha For Stress + Anxiety
- Guide To Melatonin: Uses, Types, Side Effects
- Guide To Valerian Root For Sleep
- Guide To L-theanine For Sleep
- CBD vs Melatonin For Sleep
- Guide To Tart Cherry For Sleep