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Omega-3s: The Enemy of Restorative Sleep

by Matt Blackburn April 08, 2019


The biggest lesser-known factor that gets in the way of deeply restorative sleep is unsaturated fats. That is a class of long-chain fats primarily found in plant foods. Highly unsaturated fats are commonly known as omega-3s: DHA, EPA and ALA. While we have been taught that these are essential, they are exactly the opposite! They are the enemy of the thyroid gland, the heart, the brain, cellular respiration and autophagy. In the natural health field, many of us have become aware of the harms of “rancid fats” and vegetable oils. What most haven’t considered is what oxidizes a long-chain fatty acid. Lipid peroxidation from light, heat and oxygen. That is what our blood is full of! We can take the purest fish, krill, seal or algae oil cold extracted and preserved, but as soon as it reaches our blood stream, it oxidizes and becomes harmful to our health! Detrimental breakdown products of omega-3s include: ethane, pentane, malondialdehyde, hydroxynonenal, crotonaldehyde, acrolein, and neuroprostanes. A study published by the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that the formation of neuroprostanes from the breakdown of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are a marker of oxidative damage and elevated in Alzheimer’s disease patients (Jackson Roberts II, 1998). How does all of this relate to sleep? While we sleep we are in a fasted state. Depending upon the state of our liver, we eventually run out of stored sugar (glycogen) and our body will begin to pull on our fat reserves for energy. Our body preferentially burns saturated fats at rest (Leyton, 1987). As we age, and the average diet is rich in omega-3 supplements, vegetable oils, legumes, soy, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables, the fat tissues (like the brain!) become saturated with unstable unsaturated fats like DHA. When the brain is starved of saturated fat because of a meat and animal product-devoid diet, the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats will be altered. A material made from oxidized highly unsaturated fats (omega-3s) and oxidized iron cakes the cells. We know that the brain detoxifies while it sleeps through a kind of “brain washing”. A study published in 2013 showed that during sleep there is an exchange of cerebrospinal fluid with interstitial fluid that allows the removal of neurotoxic waste products. Most of the neurotoxic products are breakdown products of unsaturated fatty acids, namely acrolein and neuroprostanes. The worst part about these highly unsaturated fats like omega-3 DHA is that they easily cross the blood brain barrier, bringing ATP production to a screeching halt (Stanimirovic, et al., 1995). When energy product in the cell is lowered, more calcium is allowed in. We know that one of the major ways that non-native electromagnetic fields (from cell towers, WiFi or 5G) damages us is via the voltage-gated calcium channels (Pall, 2013). We also know that much of the cellular damage from this radiation occurs from increased nitric oxide, which unsaturated fats also increases. All of these effects compound to increase stress, the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, neurodegeneration and autoimmune diseases. While the problem is complex, the solutions are simple!

  1. Avoid consuming meals high in unsaturated fats, especially before bed. The specific foods and food combinations that work with us is individual, but every human operates better on saturated fats. Meat, pastured eggs, raw goat milk, raw goat cheese and grassfed ice cream are foods that I incorporate daily. In other words, eat more animal foods and don’t be afraid of saturated fat and cholesterol! Increasing our intake of those will displace the stored unsaturated fats in our tissues and protect our brain from oxidative stress, especially while we sleep.

  2. Carbohydrates from good sources are required to fuel liver detoxification. The state of our liver determines the degree to which we can convert thyroid hormone and increase energy production in every cell of our body. My favorite sources are seasonal fruit, raw unfiltered honey and maple syrup. I find that consuming some carbohydrate before bed really increases my sleep quality as measured by the Oura ring.

  3. Consume anti-stress, pro-thyroid amino acids in gelatinous bone broths. While there are excellent companies out there to purchase ready-to-consume grassfed bone broth, the best is always home made. I drink bison, beef and chicken broth on a daily basis. The average diet is deficient in these anti-inflammatory amino acids which balance out the pro-inflammatory amino acids found in muscle meat. I enjoy one cup of broth when I wake up and before bed.

The common thread with all of this is that it all reduces our stress levels! There are so many ways to reduce stress in our life, but the unsaturated fat piece is often overlooked. The type of fat that our brain is made of really determines how we sleep, how we age and how we prevent chronic disease.

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