Reduced Subjective Sleep Quality in People Rating Themselves as Electro-hypersensitive: An Observational Study
38 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2023 Last revised: 17 Oct 2023
Date Written: June 13, 2023
Background: Disturbed sleep is among the most frequent health complaints of people exposed to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) used in mobile telecommunication, particularly in individuals who consider themselves as EMF hypersensitive (EHS). It has been suggested that exposure to RF-EMF may affect brain functions such as sleep by increasing the intracellular calcium ion (Ca2+) concentration upon activation of the L-type, voltage-gated Ca2+ channel Cav1.2, encoded by the gene CACNA1C. Interestingly, allelic variants of CACNA1C were previously associated with impaired self-rated sleep latency and sleep quality, reminiscent of those reported by EHS individuals. We investigated whether EMF sensitivity associates with self-rated estimates of sleep quality and CACNA1C gene variants previously proposed to impair the quality of sleep.
Methods: A total of 2'040 participants (1'381 females) aged 18-30 years completed online, validated questionnaires on EMF sensitivity, subjective sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, mentation during sleep, and diurnal preference. They also provided a saliva sample for genotyping three functional variants of CACNA1C (rs7304986, rs16929277 and rs2302729). Eligible participants endorsing the question "Are you electro-hypersensitive?" were considered as “EHS” (n=105), those denying this question yet believing to develop detrimental health symptoms due to prevailing electromagnetic pollution as “attributers” (n=254), and the remaining participants as “non-EHS” (n=1'406). We combined the EHS and attributers into one group for binary analyses. We tested possible associations between EMF sensitivity, subjective sleep variables and CACNA1C variants using linear and logistic regression. We used age, sex, level of education, presence of sleep disorders and habitual mobile phone use as covariates and corrected with Benjamini-Hochberg False Discovery Rate for multiple comparisons.
Results: The EHS/attributers consistently reported prolonged sleep latency, reduced sleep quality, higher sleepiness and more nocturnal mentation when compared to non-EHS. Habitual mobile phone use was not associated with self-rated sleep latency and sleep quality scores. While the T-allele of variant rs2302729 of CACNA1C was associated with both, reduced subjective sleep quality and self-reported EMF sensitivity, we found no evidence for the hypothesis that EHS mediates impaired sleep quality via this allelic variant of CACNA1C.
Conclusions: Irrespective of reported RF-EMF exposure, self-rated EHS/attributers rated subjective sleep quality worse than non-EHS individuals.
Trial Registration: Swiss National Clinical Trials Portal (SNCTP000002285) and ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03074617).
Funding Information: The study was funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (grant numbers: A2111.0239 & A200.0001).
Conflict of Interests: The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.
Ethical Approval: This research project was approved by the responsible ethics committee (Kantonale Ethikkommission Zürich) and all participants provided written informed consent (BASEC-ID: 2016-02049).
Keywords: radio frequency electromagnetic fields, CACNA1C genotype, mobile communication, 5G
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