Elusive Sleep And How To Get Some

In the Paleo and Primal community, quality sleep is one of the key tenets of a healthy lifestyle but for parents of small children getting a solid eight hours can seem like an impossible goal. It is quite typical for a young family to be comprised of multiple children ranging in age from newborn to 6-8 years old.

While sleep is important for adults for multiple reasons ranging from hormone and neurotransmitter production to detoxification which happen while we sleep. My daughter knows that if she wakes me during the night she may be dealing with “grumpy mommy” the next day. Fortunately she is a good sleeper so grumpy mommy doesn’t make an appearance too often.

Sleep is just as important for children for the same reasons but also because their bodies and brains are growing at a pace that will be unequaled later in life. Sleep is critical for both brain development and brain performance. A study found that language acquisition seems particularly vulnerable to sleep-wake state organization. Studies have also found poor sleep to be implicated in reading ability, behavior problems and body mass index.

The other frequent complaint one hears from parents of young children is how difficult it is to get them to eat a healthy diet. So, could there be some correlation between nutrient deficiency and poor ability to fall asleep and stay asleep? Research shows that yes, nutrient deficiences are implicated. Fortunately, if you are concerned about your child/childrens’ sleep, there can be no harm in trying to increase consumption of particular nutrients either by adding certain foods or supplements.

Nutrient: DHA

An recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research looked specifically at measurements of total sleep per night and and blood levels of DHA.

“As the brain continues to grow and develop throughout childhood and adolescence, maintaining brain health through good nutrition is critical. DHA is a major structural fat in the brain, accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain. Accumulating evidence from epidemiological and intervention studies suggests that low dietary intakes of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, and DHA in particular, may have a detrimental effect on children’s behavior and cognitive development.”

The Oxford University researchers discovered that lower levels of DHA correlated with a reduction in sleep duration, while higher blood DHA levels were associated with significantly better, longer sleep. They also pointed out that typical average daily intake of DHA falls well below amounts nationally and internationally recommendations.

Supplemental DHA provided during the study resulted in improved reading scores and interestingly also improved behavior which leads one to wonder whether the epidemic of ADHD and ADD diagnoses could be exacerbated by deficiencies in DHA.

To increase consumption of DHA through food sources you could try adding salmon or tuna and grass fed beef. The source is important to ensure the best DHA profile as wild caught salmon and grass fed beef will be higher in DHA. This is because the DHA is produced from what they eat which in the case of fish is algae and beef is rich green grass. My daughter likes both smoked salmon and cooked salmon and homemade burgers are always a big hit. If you have a picky eater and would rather supplement a good fish oil would work.

Individual Variability

The amount of sleep needed is also a matter of individual variability so while one can use official recommendations as a guide it is best to assess how your children are performing, whether they seem tired, irritable or unable to focus … more than would be expected from young children.


About the Author:

Candice is a certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach living in sunny San Diego, California with her husband and seven year old daughter. She is passionate about nutrition and holistic health and sharing what she has learned and continues to learn with others who want to achieve health and vitality.