Eating fish has long been touted as an easy way to get healthier. Thanks to fish’s powerful omega-3 fatty acids—which are linked to better heart health, less joint stiffness, and reduced depression risk—fish is an increasingly popular way to stay lean and healthy, especially among people who haven’t already eaten fish a lot. Studies have also shown that eating more fish (and more omega-3s) can help heal you after a heart attack, reduce the effects, and provide general anti-inflammatory action.
Now, there’s a new reason to eat lots of fish: It has been linked to better sleep and an increase in brain functioning, according to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania.
Kids who ate fish weekly scored almost five points higher on an IQ test, and reported fewer sleep disturbances, according to the study, which analyzed more than 500 kids 9 to 11 years old. The types of fish were not analyzed this go-round, but researches plan to drill deeper down into what kinds of fish offer the biggest boost in brain performance and sleep patterns. Salmon is especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but smaller fish like sardines and anchovies are also rich in the good stuff.
“Lack of sleep is associated with antisocial behavior; poor cognition is associated with antisocial behavior,” said Adrian Raine, Ph.D., the Richard Perry University professor of criminology, psychiatry, and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We have found that omega-3 supplements reduce antisocial behavior, so it’s not too surprising that fish is behind this. If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance—like we’ve seen here—even better. It’s a double hit.”
Here’s a guide to the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and a rundown of 10 reasons every athlete needs omega-3s.