From the Journals

Study finds chronic jet lag–like body clocks in people with HIV



People living with HIV (PLWH) had a “mistimed circadian phase” and a shorter night’s sleep compared with HIV-negative individuals with a similar lifestyle, according to findings that suggest both a possible mechanism for increased comorbidities in PLWH and potential solutions.

“It is very well known that sleep problems are common in people living with HIV, and many different reasons for this have been proposed,” coauthor Malcolm von Schantz, PhD, professor of chronobiology at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, said in an interview. “But the novelty of our findings is the observation of delayed circadian rhythms.”

The mistimed circadian phase in PLWH is linked to later sleep onset and earlier waking and has “important potential implications” for the health and well-being of PLWH, wrote senior author Karine Scheuermaier, MD, from the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and coauthors.

Until now, research on sleep in HIV has focused primarily on its homeostatic components, such as sleep duration and staging, rather than on circadian-related aspects, they noted.

“If the lifestyle‐independent circadian misalignment observed in the current study is confirmed to be a constant feature of chronic HIV infection, then it may be a mediator both of poorer sleep health and of poorer physical health in PLWH, which could potentially be alleviated through light therapy or chronobiotic medication or supplements,” they suggested.

HIV endemic in study population

The study analyzed a random sample of 187 participants (36 with HIV and 151 without) in the HAALSI (Health and Ageing in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH Community in South Africa) study, which is part of the Agincourt Health and Socio-demographic Surveillance System.

The study population ranged in age from 45 to 93 years, with an average age of 60.6 years in the HIV-positive group and 68.2 years in the HIV-negative group. Demographic data, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score, and valid actigraphy (measured with an accelerometer for 14 consecutive days) were available for 172 participants (18% with HIV). A subgroup of 51 participants (22% with HIV) also had valid dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) data, a sensitive measure of the internal circadian clock. DLMO was measured for a minimum of 5 consecutive days with hourly saliva sampling between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. while sitting in a dimly lit room.

In 36 participants (16% with HIV) with both valid actigraphy and DLMO data, circadian phase angle of entrainment was calculated by subtracting DLMO time from habitual sleep-onset time obtained from actigraphy.

After adjustment for age and sex, the study found a slightly later sleep onset (adjusted average delay of 10 minutes), earlier awakening (adjusted average advance of 10 minutes), and shorter sleep duration in PLWH compared with HIV-negative participants.

At the same time, melatonin production in PLWH started more than an hour later on average than in HIV-negative participants, “with half of the HIV+ group having an earlier habitual sleep onset than DLMO time” the authors wrote. In a subgroup of 36 participants with both valid actigraphy and DLMO data, the median circadian phase angle of entrainment was smaller in PLWH (–6 minutes vs. +1 hour 25 minutes in the HIV-negative group).

“Collectively, our data suggest that the sleep phase occurred earlier than what would be biologically optimal among the HIV+ participants,” they added.


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