Jansen EC, Dunietz GL, Dababneh A, Peterson KE, Chervin RD, Baek J, O'Brien L, Song PXK, Cantoral A, Hu H, Téllez-Rojo MM (2019) J Clin Sleep Med. 2019 Oct;15(10): 1443-1449. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.7972.
Lead exposure has been linked to adverse cognitive outcomes among children, and sleep disturbances could potentially mediate these relationships. As a first step, whether childhood lead levels are linked to sleep disturbances must be ascertained. Prior studies of lead and sleep are scarce and rely on parent-reported sleep data.
The study population included 395 participants from the Early Life Exposure in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants project, a group of sequentially enrolled birth cohorts from Mexico City. Blood lead levels measured from ages 1 to 4 years were used to calculate a cumulative measure of early childhood lead levels. Average sleep duration, sleep fragmentation, and movement index were assessed once between the ages of 9 and 18 years with wrist actigraphs worn for a continuous 7-day interval. Linear regression models were fit with average sleep duration, fragmentation, or movement as the outcome and cumulative lead levels divided into quartiles as the exposure, adjusted for age, sex, and maternal education.
Mean (standard deviation) age at follow-up was 13.8 (1.9) years, and 48% of participants were boys. Median (interquartile range) cumulative childhood lead level was 13.7 (10.8, 18.0) μg/dL. Patients in the highest quartile of the cumulative childhood lead group had on average 23 minutes less sleep than those in the first quartile in adolescence (95% confidence interval [7, 39]; P, trend = .02). Higher cumulative lead level was associated with higher sleep fragmentation in younger adolescents (younger than 14 years) only (P, interaction = .02).
Shorter sleep duration may represent an as-yet unrecognized adverse consequence of lead exposure in youth.