Children Sleep and Antisocial Behavior: Differential Association of Sleep with Aggression and Rule-Breaking

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2019 May;47(5):791-799. doi: 10.1007/s10802-018-0480-0.


There is a strong relationship between sleep and behavioral problems. These findings are often interpreted via environmental explanations, such that poor sleep directly exacerbates or causes symptoms of aggression and behavior problems. However, there are other possible explanations, such that the genes predicting poor sleep also predict aggression or rule-breaking. The current study sought to elucidate the origin of this relationship. The sample was composed of 1030 twin pairs (426 monozygotic and 604 dizygotic). The sample was 51.3% male with a mean age of 8.06 years (range 6-11.96; SD = 1.45). Aggression, rule-breaking and sleep were assessed through the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). We fitted bivariate Cholesky genetic models to the data, decomposing the variance within, and the covariance among, aggression, rule-breaking, and sleep functioning into their genetic and environmental components. Genetic correlations between all sleep variables and aggression were significant and moderate to large in magnitude, but mostly small and non-significant between sleep and rule-breaking. We did not find evidence of a causal or environmental relationship between the majority of sleep variables and aggression, but rather clear evidence of genetic pleiotropy. However, the pattern of associations between rule-breaking and sleep measures was less consistent. Aggression and rule-breaking appear to be differentially associated with sleep.

Keywords: Antisocial behavior; Children; Sleep; Twins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Conduct Disorder / genetics
  • Conduct Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology*