Heritability of insomnia symptoms in youth and their relationship to depression and anxiety

Sleep. 2011 Dec 1;34(12):1641-6. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1424.


Study objectives: Insomnia is a highly prevalent sleep disorder yet little is known about the role of genetic factors in its pathophysiology. The aim of this study was to examine the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in explaining variability in insomnia symptoms.

Design: Traditional twin design.

Setting: Academic medical center.

Participants: 1412 twin pairs aged 8-16 years (48.8% MZ, 47.2% DZ, 4.0% indeterminate).

Interventions: None.

Measurements and results: Ratings of insomnia symptoms, depression, and overanxious disorder were made by trained interviewers based on DSM-III-R criteria. ACE models were conducted using Mx statistical software. Insomnia symptoms were prevalent in this sample based both on parental (6.6%) and youth (19.5%) reports. The overall heritability of insomnia symptoms was modest (30.7%), with the remaining variance attributed to unique environmental effects. There was no evidence of sex differences in the prevalence of insomnia symptoms or in the contribution of genetic and environmental effects. In multivariate models, there was support for insomnia-specific unique environmental effects over and above overlapping effects with depression and overanxious disorder, but no evidence for insomnia-specific genetic effects.

Conclusions: Genetic factors play a modest role in the etiology of insomnia symptoms in 8-16 year-olds. These effects overlap with the genetics of depression and overanxious disorder. Further work is needed to determine which genes confer risk for all three disorders.

Keywords: Insomnia; anxiety; depression; genetics; twin study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Child
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / genetics*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / psychology
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Dizygotic / psychology
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology