Food and Behaviour Research

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Association between Erythrocyte Membrane Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Sleep Disturbance in Chinese Children and Adolescents

Tang J, Yan Y, Zheng JS, Mi J, Li D. (2018) Nutrients.  Mar 12;10(3).  pii: E344. doi: 10.3390/nu10030344. 

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The relationship between circulating fatty acid (FA) composition and childhood sleep disturbance remains largely unclear. We aimed to investigate the association of erythrocyte membrane FA composition with prevalence of sleep disturbance in Chinese children and adolescents.

A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 2337 school-aged children and adolescents who completed a clinical assessment in Beijing, China. Presence of sleep disturbance was self-reported or parent-reported by questionnaires. Erythrocyte FAs were measured by gas chromatography, and desaturase activities were estimated by FA ratios. Multivariable-adjusted odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for sleep disturbance across FA quartiles were calculated by a logistical regression model.

We found higher proportions of erythrocyte phospholipid 24:0, 24:1n-9, and lower proportions of total n-3 polyunsaturated FA (PUFA), 22:5n-3 and 22:6n-3 in participants with sleep disturbance compared with those without.

In the logistical regression models, significant inverse associations were found for total n-3 PUFA, 22:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, the highest versus lowest quartile ORs and 95% CIs were 0.57 (0.40, 0.82), 0.67 (0.47, 0.97) and 0.69 (0.49, 0.96), respectively.

For per 1 SD difference of proportion, OR and 95% CI of prevalence of sleep disturbance was 0.91 (0.86, 0.97) for total n-3 PUFA, 0.90 (0.82, 0.98) for 22:5n-3, and 0.92 (0.86, 0.99) for 22:6n-3, respectively. No significant association was found for saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids or FA ratios.

The present study suggested that erythrocyte n-3 PUFAs, especially 22:5n-3 and 22:6n-3, are inversely associated with prevalence of sleep disturbance in Chinese children and adolescents.


Low blood levels of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA were associated with sleep problems in this large sample of Chinese children and adolescents.

Similar links between sleep problems and low blood omega-3 have already been reported in UK schoolchildren. Furthermore, that study also showed improvements in sleep following supplementation with omega-3 DHA.  See:
These findings are also consistent with those of another recent study from China, which suggested that better sleep could explain the links found between higher fish consumption in children and higher IQ. See: