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This One Food Can Help You Fall Asleep—and Boost Your IQ

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 1/10/2018 Bryce Gruber

a close up of a piece of paper © Lolostock/Shutterstock Adding this one healthy and delicious food to your diet can help you fall asleep, and it may actually boost your IQ as a result.

Good news for people looking to sleep better and boost their IQ—a new study published by the University of Pennsylvania says that regular fish consumption has been shown to improve cognition and help people fall asleep. They also found that children who consume fish at least weekly fall asleep better and have higher IQs by nearly five points. 

Fish are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids—a fat that carries numerous health benefits, such as these. “Neurons need omega-3 fatty acids for proper cell membrane structure and function,” explains Don Vaughn, MD, a neuroscientist at UCLA, of the importance of a fish-inclusive diet. “It then comes as no surprise that a dietary insufficiency of omega-3 fatty acids leads to cognitive deficits.”

While previous studies showed a relationship between omega-3 consumption and improved intelligence, none had established a link between improved sleep, intelligence, and fish consumption. The new study recruited 541 children in China, almost evenly split between boys and girls. The researchers tracked fish consumption along with the kids’ performance on both verbal and non-verbal skill tests such as vocabulary and coding. Parents helped log how well the kids slept. After all the data was collected and analyzed, the Penn researchers found that children who reported eating fish at least weekly scored 4.8 points higher on their IQ exams than those who reported eating fish “seldom” or “never.” Those who ate fish regularly also slept sounder.

“Sleep is essential to brain health and function. The brain consolidates important memories, forgets useless information, and continues practicing skills learned during the day,” says Dr. Vaughn. “Good sleep underlies high performance in memory and problem solving.”

The researchers on the team also noted that poor sleep is often accompanied by antisocial behavior, poor cognition, and a variety of other problems—all of which could be lessened by increasing the amount of fish or omega-3 fatty acids in their diet—here are some other sources of these healthy fats.

“It is clear that omega-3 fatty acids affect brain structure and performance,” says Dr. Vaughn. “We don’t know the ‘right’ amount of consumption so it’s certainly plausible that increased omega-3 dietary intake might lead to small improvements in cognition, with improved sleep as a mediating factor.”

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