Children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have IQ scores that are 4 points higher, on average, than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all, according to new findings from the University of Pennsylvania.
Previous studies have found a relationship between omega-3s, the fatty acids in many types of fish, and improved intelligence and better sleep. But they've never all been connected before. This new study reveals sleep as a possible mediating pathway, the potential missing link between fish and intelligence.
For the study, 541 children in China, aged 9- to 11, completed a questionnaire about how often they ate fish in the past month, with options ranging from "never" to "at least once per week." They also took an IQ test, which examined verbal and non-verbal skills such as vocabulary and coding.
The children’s parents then answered questions about sleep quality, which included sleep duration and frequency of night waking or daytime sleepiness. Finally, the researchers controlled for factors, including parental education, occupation and marital status and number of children in the home.
Analyzing these data points, the research team found that children who reported eating fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ exams than those who said they "seldom" or "never" consumed fish. Those whose meals sometimes included fish scored 3.3 points higher.
In addition, increased fish consumption was associated with fewer disturbances of sleep, which the researchers say indicates better overall sleep quality.
The findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that fish consumption has positive health benefits and should be something more heavily promoted. The researchers stated that children should be introduced to fish “early on, as young as 10 months, as long as the fish has no bones and has been finely chopped, but should start by around age 2”.
The researchers want to add to this current study to establish, through randomized controlled trials, that eating fish can lead to better sleep and better school performance.
At this time, the researchers recommend incrementally incorporating fish into the diet; eating it even once a week moves a family into the "high" fish-eating group as defined in the study.
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