Seasonal variation in human salivary cortisol concentration

Chronobiol Int. 2008 Nov;25(6):923-37. doi: 10.1080/07420520802553648.


Measurement of cortisol concentration can contribute important information about an individual's ability to adjust to various environmental demands of both physical and psychosocial origin. However, one uncertainty that affects the possibilities of correctly interpreting and designing field studies is the lack of observations of the impact of seasonal changes on cortisol excretion. For this reason, the month-to-month changes in diurnal cortisol concentration, the awakening cortisol response (ACR), maximum morning concentration, and fall during the day were studied in a group of 24 healthy men and women 32 to 61 yrs of age engaged in active work. On one workday for 12 consecutive months, participants collected saliva at four time points for determination of cortisol: at awakening, +30 min, +8 h, and at 21:00 h. Data were analyzed by a repeated measures design with month (12 levels) and time-of-day (4 levels) as categorical predictors. Cortisol concentrations were analyzed on a log scale. The diurnal pattern of cortisol was similar across months (interaction between month and time of day: p>0.4). The main effects of month and time-of-day were statistically significant (p<0.001). Highest concentrations were observed in February, March, and April, and lowest concentrations were observed in July and August. There were no statistically significant effects in any of the other measures, or between men and women. In conclusion, a seasonal variation in salivary cortisol concentrations was detected in an occupationally active population. Thus, seasonal variation needs to be taken into account when designing and evaluating field studies and interventions and when making comparisons across studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Seasons*
  • Work


  • Hydrocortisone