Scientists studying healthy children and adolescents from eight European countries have found a group of molecules in the childrens’ blood that they believe are associated with their sleep quality and could pave the way for a simple test to assess whether children are getting enough sleep.
The researchers, who found that a group of molecules in the blood known as microRNAs (miRNAs) are closely associated with sleep quality, said their findings could, in future, help scientists devise a blood test that could not only assess whether the children are sleeping well, but also help determine whether they are susceptible to other health conditions.
Based on self-reporting, the children in the study were classed as "short sleepers"- children sleeping less than nine hours per day - and "normal sleepers" - those catching at least nine hours of sleep at night.
The researchers found that by analysing the profiles of two circulating miRNAs they could tell which children were poor sleepers.
They took into account the participants' country of origin, age, sex, pubertal status, average daily screen time and educational level of their parents, saying these factors did not affect miRNA profiles.
Through their research, which is published in the Experimental Physiology journal, they believe a blood test to assess sleep quality "could provide a more reliable metric" than self-reporting.
Speaking to the PA news agency Fabio Laura, of the Institute of Food Sciences of the National Research Council in Italy, and one of the authors of the study, said: “Our findings show for the first time that the sleep duration reflects the profile of specific circulating microRNAs 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.
“Our experimental design was addressed to demonstrate that epigenetic mechanisms are involved in sleep duration and patterns.
"It is conceivable that in a near future a simple screening test will be available."
Sleep is believed to essential for children's health, and the researchers say lack of shut eye can be associated with negative health outcomes, such as heart disease and diabetes.