Forget warm milk. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania says that fish may be the key to a good night’s sleep.
The paper, published Thursday in Scientific Reports, found an association between regular fish consumption and high sleep quality among Chinese schoolchildren, likely thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Largely as a result of that improved sleep, the researchers found, the children also scored higher on IQ tests.
“There’s a relationship between fish consumption and higher cognitive functioning. What what we document here is that it’s the better sleep that explains the relationship,” says Adrian Raine, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of criminology, psychiatry and psychology at Penn. “From A to B to C: From fish consumption to better sleep to higher cognitive functioning.”
The researchers asked 541 schoolchildren in China between ages 9 and 11 to describe their eating habits, including how often they ate fish. Their parents, meanwhile, were asked to answer questions about the kids’ sleep patterns. Researchers then administered IQ tests when the children turned 12.
They found links between eating fish regularly — the more, the better — and both improved sleep and higher IQ scores. But, Raine explains, it appears that many of the cognitive benefits can be traced back to bedtime. “The brain is so much more plastic early on in child development,” he says. “We might anticipate that fish consumption earlier in life may be particularly beneficial for a child’s sleep and cognitive functioning.”
While the study focused on kids, Raine says “it’s quite reasonable to imagine that these findings can also apply to adults,” citing studies that have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can alter psychological functioning in adults.
Eating fish just a few times a month may improve your brain functioning, Raine says. (Fish and omega-3s have also been shown to be good for your heart.)
“The important thing is really having a balanced diet. It needn’t be a lot,” Raine says. “Even if parents could just get fish on the table once a week, that could be enough to make a bit of a difference over at school and in long-term performance, and especially sleep.”