Science in Action: Omega-3 (sleep data)

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:

Length of 1st sleep over time

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.

  • When I started drinking ELOO my sleep didn’t improve because I drank most of the ELOO during the day.
  • When I started the flaxseed oil capsules they had only a little effect on my sleep because I swallowed them throughout day as well as in the evening.
  • When I switched from 10 flaxseed oil capsules per day to 1 Tablespoon of flaxseed oil per day my sleep got longer because I always drank the tablespoon in one shot — around 10 pm. When I switched to 2 Tablespoons/day, I continued to drink it all at one time, around 10 pm. I attributed the improvement to the increase in omega-3; it was really due to the increased evening intake of fat.
  • ELOO and other fats helped many SLDers sleep better because they drank them in the evening.
  • 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.

    6 Responses to “Science in Action: Omega-3 (sleep data)”

    1. Sam Says:

      Has anyone on your forums ever found a way to make oil filled capsules?

      Just thinking, with some of the research showing saturated fat is better for you than polyunsaturates (like the [polyunsaturates + (alcohol or fructose)]=liver cirrhosis, but [saturated + alcohol] = no cirrhosis, butter might be a better oil for use with your diet.

      (I’ve had fatty liver before)

      And since you want to avoid flavour, the butter would need to be in capsules. I’m not convinced coconut oil is good for the liver either because no coconut oil gets into the chylomicrons, so it’s all processed in the liver – a possibly worse situation than Fructose, IMHO

    2. Mark Says:

      Wish I had time to contribute some more scientific data at this point, but for what it’s worth: I’ve just started using ground flaxseed in my diet. I’m on a liver detox at the moment, so I’m acutely aware of what I’m eating and when I’m eating it. I’m also a lifelong insomniac, so I’m pretty finely attuned to my sleep quality and patterns.

      Last night at 10:30pm I took 2 tbsp of freshly ground flaxseed in 3 tbsp of water (actually, I ground them together into a totally unappetizing but not altogether unpleasant goo, like a warm alien pap).

      I had an incredible sleep last night. So good that after I got out of bed, I was all, “OK, WTF did I do right yesterday.” I mean, in truth, I did everything right: I’m on a detox diet. But I haven’t been sleeping like this. The last thing I did before bed was the flaxseed bit, so I googled flaxseed and sleep and ended up here.

      That’s my data!

    3. Mark Says:

      Sorry, when I made my above comment I hadn’t looked at the rest of your blog. I now see that you don’t really need any more random data from strangers (;->).

    4. Graham Says:

      Nobody has mentioned an issue of hrs taken before sleeping. Seth you say that you take your oils at 10pm but what time do you actually go to bed?
      Assuming that you went to bed at 1am (i.e. 3hrs before sleeping) then the fats might be used for another process (assuming that they are being stored as a fuel source) and therefore you mightn’t notice the same affect!!

    5. Graham Says:

      For profiles of the Oils consumed refer to the following:
      Cod Liver Oil:

      Change the SERVING SIZE to 1 TBSP. Notice the difference in the Omega-6 and Omega-3 profiles of the Oil in the fat Section.
      Based upon the profiles and your results it would appear that consumption of Omega-6 produces the best results.

      Do you suppose there is a limit to how much of any type of fat the body can store in one go?

    6. Syed waqar Says:

      Dear all,

      I have Sleep problem. I go to bed mostly at 12:30 am and get into sleep within half an hour or less but awake after three hours. My age is 52.

      After awake at 4 am what should I do, because I have to go to my office at 10: am. I was very much upset. My doctor gave me relexant and told me that I have business problem. Therefore I should have sleep through medicine. This does not work situation remain the same. One day I went to market and find some traditional sweets for me that were flex seed balls join with small sugar. I took two balls by chance and ate these. Next day I noticed that went to sleep and did not get up until 9 am. Next day I repeat the same and slept till 10 am. I mean nine to ten hour sleep. Today is the third day and I took the same and will let you know tomorrow about the results.

      Right now I just wanted to see the effect of flexseed through Internet and found that there are few more people wha are already feel the effectiveness of flex seed for sleep.

      Let see today the effect. If it works I will try for many days. But before regular start I will get a complete blood reports before regular start. Then after few week I will again check the effect of these seeds on the blood picture. I will paste the results.

      Best regards,

      Syed Waqar.