top of page

Healthy Sleep and Fatty Acids

by Deryck R. Persaud, Ph.D. and Alma Barranco-Mendoza, Ph.D.

What is sleep?

Sleep is a natural requirement of the human body. It is defined as the time when the human body goes into a resting state where there is no conscient physical activity that involves physically moving from one place to another. However, during this state, many biological processes are still occurring. This restful state is part of what is called the circadian rhythm. In general, circadian rhythms are defined as the physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. 1

What are good and bad sleep patterns?

It has been a popular scientific and medical topic to determine what is the optimal length of time for rest or the sleep state. For many years, good sleep was defined as a restful state of about 8 hours that was on average from 10 pm on one day to 6 am the next day. There have since been many research studies on the length of sleep and the best times for sleep. Other studies have followed up by having a series of smaller time periods, or naps, that can be carried out at various times of the day, but all these recommendations would be individual-based. Many health professionals have emphasized the importance of good sleep habits and their essential implications in maintaining good health and a productive workday.

Disturbed sleep patterns are a common symptom of aging, Poor sleep is also common for people with conditions or disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer's, etc.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is essential for the human body because it has been shown to be necessary for the replenishing of energy reserves, growth and/or healing of cells and bones. Some studies have shown that different biochemical processes occur during sleep as compared to the biochemical processes while in the alert and active mobile state. The purpose of sleep has been classified into various theories: inactivity theory (inactivity at night provides an evolutionary and productive benefit), energy conservation theory (reduces a person’s energy demand when it is least efficient to hunt), restoration theory (allows the body to repair and replaces important biological cellular components) and the brain plasticity theory ( a time when there is neural reorganization and growth of brain structure and function) .2 Since sleep is very crucial to the human body it leads to the question of what elements contribute to good sleep habits and/or patterns.

What factors contribute to good sleep?

Sleep and the length of sleep are affected by an individual’s lifestyle choices and past or current life situations. Examples of these are type of job, type of recreational activity, personal affliction, and/or diseases. In general, sleep is affected by the level of stress one experiences from day to day. The more stress in a person’s life, the more the human body is not in its optimal state, which leads to a stage of restlessness. Once a person experiences stress and stress levels are higher than what is normal for that individual and for long periods of time, it can lead to extensive unhealthy outcomes for the human body.

Reducing stress is, therefore, crucial to keeping the body healthy and can result in the ability to have a better sleep pattern. Some methods for reducing stress require a person to consult with a sleep specialist or seek professional counselling so that a method or plan can be developed: (1) to identify the causes of stress, (2) determine ways to reduce such stressful situations, and (3) ascertain how to better deal with such occurrences, whether from the past, current, or perceivable future. For those that have medical conditions that impair sleep, it is necessary to consult their medical practitioner to attain advice on medicines and/or seek natural means if possible (i.e., dietary changes, use of supplements). Sleep, in general, is a process that is mitigated by many biological molecules that are maintained at an optimal level in the body to initiate and maintain the sleep state. When these optimum levels are not acquired, sleep is disturbed and this leads to either a lack of sleep or oversleeping.

The Structure of Sleep: Biomolecules

Sleep can function in two ways or phases: the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and the rapid eye movement (REM, dreaming stage) sleep. These phases are controlled by homeostatic regulators that identify or determine the relationship between wake time and sleep time.3 Some molecules that are involved in the regulation of the sleep pattern are acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin, histamine, dopamine, glutamate, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), hypocretin/orexin, cytokines, adenosine, nitric oxide melatonin, and fatty acids. Fatty acids and lipids are important in the sleep process in three main ways:

  1. Fatty acids are major components of cell membranes. The presence of unsaturated fatty acids, for example, is crucial to membrane fluidity and functionality. This integrity of the membrane influences the structure and function of the membrane (i.e., the transmission of the voltage potential for neuron signalling, proper ion channel functioning, and critical protein receptor binding of important biomolecules),

  2. Complex lipid molecules such as oleamide, cerebrodiene and Lipid A are known to have an endogenous sleep-inducing effect, 4 and

  3. The synthesis of prostaglandins (PGs) is facilitated by the presence of the fatty acids, arachidonic acid (n-6), which is derived from linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid. PG is further modified to form important sleep promoters, PGD2 (prostaglandin D2) and PGE2 (prostaglandin E2). In general, the levels of PGD2 are highest during sleep.

PGD2 is considered a sleep promoter and its activity is independent of the melatonin sleep-induced pathway.4 Studies on the inhibition of PGD2 in rats resulted in inhibition of sleep. 5 PGD2 is considered to be the most potent endogenous sleep-promoting substance.6 It works as a sleep hormone secreted into the cerebrospinal fluid. The PGD2 binds to receptors in the basal forebrain and the hypothalamus which then triggers the release of adenosine (a paracrine sleep-promoting molecule) that is able to activate the sleep center for non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep regulation and thereby induces sleep (see Figure 1).6

Current research focuses on deriving the detailed mechanism of the action of PGD2 and its contribution to promoting and improving healthy sleep patterns.

  Flow Diagram: Diet (Supplementation) provides Lipids (Essential Fatty Acids). Essential Fatty Acids n-6 is needed to produce PGD2. Essential Fatty Acids n-3 is needed to support the immune system. Both PGD2 and a good immune system are necessary and affect the Sleep Centers in the Brain.

Figure 1. A model of the sleep process involving fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are converted to PGD2 molecules that affect the sleep centers of the brain. The other route involves the immune system and its effect on the sleep centers of the brain.

What can a person do to improve sleep patterns?

Research has shown that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have a pivotal role in the regulation of the sleep process. There is a need to maintain an adequate supply of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids so that the production of PGD2 does not decrease to abnormal levels. In addition, the ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids is important as these different types of molecules have opposing effects on sleep mechanisms and on other biochemical processes in the brain.4

As we age, the fatty acid levels in our body get depleted as many essential fatty acids are not produced by our body but need to be ingested. As a consequence, our sleep patterns get disturbed. Similarly occurs for people with conditions where a fatty-acid deficit is often present, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer's, etc.

It is safe to say that the maintenance of good levels of essential fatty acids like (gamma-linolenic and linoleic acids) in a person's diet can lead to good reservoirs for the production of PGD2. In addition, acquiring a balanced amount of the other types of fatty acids (a broad spectrum) either through diet or taking broad-spectrum fatty acid supplements, like NeuroActiv™ Oil, will lead to better cell membrane integrity and hence better functioning of membrane proteins.


  1. Circadian Rhythms. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Updated March 11, 2022. Accessed, Mar 24, 2022.

  2. Brinkman, J. E., V. Reddy, and S. Sharma. "Physiology, Sleep.[Updated 2020 Apr 29]." StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing (2020).

  3. Stenberg, Dag. "Neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of sleep." Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 64.10 (2007): 1187-1204. doi:10.1007/s00018-007-6530-3

  4. Yehuda, S., S. Rabinovitz, and D. I. Mostofsk. "Essential fatty acids and sleep: mini-review and hypothesis." Medical hypotheses 50.2 (1998): 139-145. doi:10.1016/s0306-9877(98)90200-6

  5. Matsumura, Hitoshi, Ryuichi Takahata, and Osamu Hayaishi. "Inhibition of sleep in rats by inorganic selenium compounds, inhibitors of prostaglandin D synthase." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 88.20 (1991): 9046-9050. doi:10.1073/pnas.88.20.9046

  6. Hayaishi, Osamu. "Prostaglandin D2 and sleep." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 559.1 (1989): 374-381. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2011.08.003

Other Interesting Readings:

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page