Could sleep duration be associated with levels of circulating miRNAs in the blood?

Written by Heather Jones, Future Science Group

Research at the Institute of Food Sciences of the National Research Council (Avellino, Italy) has revealed that levels of certain miRNAs could be linked to sleep duration in children and adolescents. The study, published in Experimental Physiology, suggests that it could be possible to develop a blood test to asses quality of sleep in children, along with susceptibility to a range of health conditions. 

Quality sleep is highly regarded as an important factor for our health and wellbeing, especially for children, whose health trajectory is heavily influenced by environmental and social factors, as well as genetics.

In this study, termed I.Family, researchers studied 111 European children and adolescents of normal weight (based on body mass index) from eight countries (Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, Hungary and Sweden). The subjects were divided into two self-reporting groups, “short sleepers” or “normal sleepers.”

These groups were defined according to the recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations. “Short sleepers” included children sleeping for less than 9 hours per day and adolescents sleeping for less than 8 hours per day, while “normal sleepers” included children sleeping at least 9 hours per day and adolescents sleeping at least 8 hours per day.

The team monitored levels of miRNA in the blood and observed a difference between the two groups (short sleepers versus normal sleepers). They discovered that circulating levels of miR-26b-3p and miR-485-5p were significantly lower in short sleepers compared with normal sleepers.

When analyzing their results, researchers also took into account country of origin, age, sex, pubertal status, average daily screen time and highest educational level of parents.

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The results of the study could pave the way for the development of a test to asses sleep quality, rather than purely relying on self-reporting. Further, given the close relationship between sleep duration and health, this metric could also potentially be used to determine susceptibility to a range of health conditions.

Study author, Fabio Lauria (Institute of Food Sciences), commented: “Our findings show for the first time that the sleep duration reflects the profile of specific circulating miRNAs in school-aged children and adolescents. 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.”

Sources: 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. EP-RP-2019-088015R2 (2019) (Epub ahead of print); www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2020-01/tps-ayc010720.php