When I started taking omega-3 the rationale was not crystal clear. Many Shangri-La dieters reported better sleep; the diet involves drinking fat; omega-3, a fat, may affect the brain; sleep is controlled by the brain. I had not noticed any change in my sleep when I switched from sugar water to ELOO. Maybe this was because ELOO was low in omega-3, I thought, and this is what prompted my interest in omega-3. Later, a fly in the ointment: a poll of SLDers found that ELOO was as likely to produce better sleep as other oils. Implying that it is not omega-3 that is producing better sleep. I was puzzled, but continued my omega-3 investigations, which by then were motivated by an unmistakable improvement in my balance. My sleep did seem to improve somewhat when I started taking flaxseed oil capsules (a good source of omega-3).
Now I think I understand. I recently changed the time of day that I take 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil. I had been taking it around 10 pm every evening; I switched to 10 am every morning. I wondered if the change would affect my balance, which I test around 7 am every morning.
To my surprise the change affected my sleep: I started waking up earlier. That is, I slept fewer hours before I woke up. This was not good — in general, the longer I sleep in one continuous stretch at night, the better. I was waking earlier and less rested. My impression was that my sleep was reverting to an earlier, lower-quality state.
To confirm this, I entered a lot of my sleep data into my computer and made a graph of how the length of my sleep (my “1st” sleep, to distinguish it from sleep when I fall back asleep a few hours after waking up) varied over the last two years. Here is the graph:
T = tablespoon. The labels give the daily dose — e.g. “3 T flax” means 3 tablespoons/day of flaxseed oil. Each point is a mean. The error bars are standard errors. This graph shows that in recent months I had been sleeping longer. I had noticed this change: it was especially clear when I switched from 1 T/day flaxseed oil to 2 T/day. I thought the improvement was due to omega-3 — ignoring the fact that a switch to sesame oil (low in omega-3) didn’t eliminate it.
Now, with a third fact contradicting my original idea (the first two were the poll and the sesame oil results), I have finally managed to change my mind. It is fat in the evening that causes longer sleep. Not only omega-3 fat — perhaps any fat has this effect. Now all sorts of things make sense.
If you want to try this, note that the effect was bigger with 2 tablespoons at 10 pm than with 1 tablespoon at 10 pm.
To be continued.