Associations between diurnal preference, sleep quality and externalizing behaviours: a behavioural genetic analysis

Psychol Med. 2011 May;41(5):1029-40. doi: 10.1017/S0033291710001741. Epub 2010 Sep 14.


Background: Certain aspects of sleep co-occur with externalizing behaviours in youth, yet little is known about these associations in adults. The present study: (1) examines the associations between diurnal preference (morningness versus eveningness), sleep quality and externalizing behaviours; (2) explores the extent to which genetic and environmental influences are shared between or are unique to these phenotypes; (3) examines the extent to which genetic and environmental influences account for these associations. method: Questionnaires assessing diurnal preference, sleep quality and externalizing behaviours were completed by 1556 young adult twins and siblings.

Results: A preference for eveningness and poor sleep quality were associated with greater externalizing symptoms [r=0.28 (95% CI 0.23-0.33) and 0.34 (95% CI 0.28-0.39), respectively]. A total of 18% of the genetic influences on externalizing behaviours were shared with diurnal preference and sleep quality and an additional 14% were shared with sleep quality alone. Non-shared environmental influences common to the phenotypes were small (2%). The association between diurnal preference and externalizing behaviours was mostly explained by genetic influences [additive genetic influence (A)=80% (95% CI 0.56-1.01)], as was the association between sleep quality and externalizing behaviours [A=81% (95% CI 0.62-0.99)]. Non-shared environmental (E) influences accounted for the remaining variance for both associations [E=20% (95% CI -0.01 to 0.44) and 19% (95% CI 0.01-0.38), respectively].

Conclusions: A preference for eveningness and poor sleep quality are moderately associated with externalizing behaviours in young adults. There is a moderate amount of shared genetic influences between the phenotypes and genetic influences account for a large proportion of the association between sleep and externalizing behaviours. Further research could focus on identifying specific genetic polymorphisms common to both sleep and externalizing behaviours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England / epidemiology
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetics, Behavioral
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Phenotype
  • Siblings
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / genetics*
  • Sleep* / genetics
  • Social Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / genetics*
  • Young Adult