S u m m a r y :
Weekly fish consumption has been linked with better sleep, and a higher IQ, says a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Fish in a Sleep-Deprived World
In a world dominated by technological devices, sleep is slowly becoming a luxury that many do not afford. Research suggests that the light from mobile phones and laptops, for instance, affect people’s sleep patterns negatively, indicating an apparent link between their use and sleep deprivation. Other studies show that children are going off to ‘dreamworld’ later and later, resulting in less sleep, because they prefer to spend additional time on their devices. So, if you find your child to be sleep-deprived, you now have a simple solution: include fish in their meals every week, and boost their IQ while at it!
A Relationship Triangle: Fish, Sleep, and IQ
Fish has been associated with both better sleep and improved cognition in previous research works. But, the new study, conducted by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, has demarcated itself from the latter as it links all three together for the first time. The findings show that kids consuming fish at least once a week not only sleep better but they also have a higher IQ than others who eat fish less frequently.
Moreover, the study also attempts to explain how sleep might be the missing link that connects fish consumption and better cognitive skills: sleep is presented as a potential mediating pathway. It could be unleashing the fatty acids in fish (omega-3s) to improve intelligence.
“This area of research is not well-developed. It’s emerging,” says study lead author Jianghong Liu. “Here we look at omega-3s coming from our food instead of from supplements.”
‘Measuring’ Intelligence & Sleep
The study participants, Chinese children from the 9 to 11 age group, were requested to complete a questionnaire that was to collect information about the frequency of fish consumption. The kids also took IQ test Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised that measures verbal and non-verbal skills like vocabulary and coding. Their parents also responded to a questionnaire about the sleep quality of the children.
The results show that children who eat fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on IQ tests than those who reported seldom or never eating fish. Kids who ate fish only sometimes scored 3.3 points higher. Moreover, the findings show a link between greater fish consumption and fewer disturbances of sleep, indicating an overall better sleep quality.
“Lack of sleep is associated with antisocial behaviour; poor cognition is associated with antisocial behaviour,” says study author Adrian Raine. “We have found that omega-3 supplements reduce antisocial behaviour, so it’s not too surprising that fish is behind this.”
Eating Fish Young
Author Jennifer Pinto-Martin encourages parents to introduce fish to their children early on because of these benefits. According to her, kids as young as 10 months can start eating fish, provided that it is finally chopped, and devoid of bones; otherwise, children should be introduced to the food by 2 years of age.
“Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable,” says Pinto-Martin. “It really has to be a concerted effort, especially in a culture where fish is not as commonly served or smelled. Children are sensitive to smell. If they’re not used to it, they may shy away from it.”
“Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed,” adds Raine. “If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance—like we’ve seen here—even better. It’s a double hit.”