Blood Testing May Prove Effective Metric for Adolescent Sleep Duration, Study Shows

Matthew Gavidia

Sleep duration was found to reflect the profile of specific circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) in the blood of school-aged children and adolescents, indicating the potential efficacy of a blood test to examine those at risk of negative health outcomes related to insufficient sleep, according to study findings published in the journal Experimental Physiology.

Among children and adolescents, insufficient sleep has been attributed to a heightened risk of obesity and impaired behavioral and social well-being. In addition to environmental and social factors, which influence sleep duration, several genes play critical roles in sleep quality, duration, and timing, with epigenetic mechanisms potentially involved in regulating circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.

Prior research shows that acute sleep deprivation and recovery may differently affect blood miRNA levels, a mechanism of epigenetic modulation. As the role of circulating miRNAs in controlling sleep duration has not yet been explored among school-aged children and adolescents, researchers sought to identify differential patterns of circulating miRNAs associated with sleep duration.

The study examined a subsample of normal-weight European children/adolescents (n = 111) participating in the I.Family study. Subjects were divided into 2 groups, short sleepers and normal sleepers, based on self-reported sleep duration among adolescents older than 13 years and children younger than 13 years. Sleep needs for children were at least 9 hours per day and 8 hours per day for adolescents (normal sleepers).

Among short and normal sleepers, there were different circulating levels of miR-26b-3p (short sleeper: mean = 2.0; 95% CI, 1.3-2.7; normal sleeper: mean = 2.3; 95% CI, 1.9-2.7; P = .05) and miR‐485‐5p (short sleeper: mean = 0.6; 95% CI, 0.3-0.9; normal sleeper: mean = 0.9; 95% CI, 0.7-1.0, P <.001), indicating a dual positive association among the 2 miRNAs with total sleep duration in the study cohort.

“The notion that some circulating miRNAs display diurnal rhythmicity in healthy humans is a relatively novel finding, suggesting that specific circulating miRNAs may have a role in the regulation of circadian rhythms,” said the study authors.

Study author Fabio Lauria, MSc, researcher at the Institute of Food Sciences of the National Research Council in Italy, emphasized that the findings “could allow clinicians to easily determine if children are sleeping enough by using a simple blood test and use this as an indication of other aspects of their health.”

The researchers noted that further studies are warranted to explore the functional relevance of the identified miRNA species.

Iacomino G, Lauria F, Russo P, et al. Circulating miRNAs are associated with sleep duration in children/adolescents: results of the I.Family study [published online January 8, 2019]. Exp Physiol. doi: 10.1113/EP088015.
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