According to research from the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science, a simple blood test could provide a reliable metric to tell whether children are sleeping enough. And because sleep affects susceptibility to many diseases, such a marker could also serve as a measure of general health.
It is commonly recognized that sleep is essential for children’s health and that insufficient sleep duration is associated with such negative health outcomes as diabetes and heart disease. In humans, sleep duration and quality are influenced by environmental, genetic, and social factors.
Researchers studied 111 children and adolescents of normal weight (based on body mass index) from eight European countries, including 25 who were ‘short sleepers’ and 86 who were ‘normal sleepers, according to self-reporting. Short sleepers included children sleeping less than 9 hours per day, and adolescents sleeping less than 8 hours per day. Normal sleepers included children sleeping at least 9 hours per day, and adolescents sleeping at least 8 hours per day.
The researchers examined the children’s blood for microRNAs, which are molecules that influence which genes are switched on, and found that certain microRNAs had significantly different levels depending on whether the children were short or normal sleepers. The researchers took into account age, average daily screen time, country of origin, highest educational level of parents, pubertal status, and sex, and determined that none of these factors affected the microRNA levels.
The study results could provide the basis for a test that could serve not only to assess sleep hygiene but to determine susceptibility to a range of health conditions. The blood test could provide a more reliable metric than self-reporting.
“Our findings show for the first time that sleep duration reflects the profile of specific circulating microRNAs in school-aged children and adolescents,” says author Fabio Lauria of the National Research Council’s Institute of Food Sciences. “This 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.”
- Iacomino G, Lauria F, Russo P, et al. Circulating miRNAs are associated with sleep duration in children/adolescents: results of the I.Family study. Exp Physiol. 2020;105(2):347–356; doi: 10.1113/ep088015.
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