Skip to main content

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

  • N. L. Barclay (a1), T. C. Eley (a2), B. Maughan (a2), R. Rowe (a3) and A. M. Gregory (a1)...

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.


Questionnaires assessing diurnal preference, sleep quality and externalizing behaviours were completed by 1556 young adult twins and siblings.


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].


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.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Mrs N. L. Barclay, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK. (Email:
Hide All
Achenbach TM (1991). Manual for the Youth Self-Report and 1991 Profile. University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry: Burlington, VT.
Achenbach TM, Rescorla LA (2003). Manual for the ASEBA Adult Forms & Profiles. University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth and Families: Burlington, VT.
Alia-Klein N, Goldstein RZ, Kriplani A, Logan J, Tomasi D, Williams B, Telang F, Shumay E, Biegon A, Craig IW, Henn F, Wang GJ, Volkow ND, Fowler JS (2008). Brain monoamine oxidase A activity predicts trait aggression. Journal of Neuroscience 28, 50995104.
Anderson MJ, Petros TV, Beckwith BE, Mitchell WW, Fritz S (1991). Individual differences in the effect of time of day on long-term memory access. American Journal of Psychology 104, 241255.
Aronen ET, Paavonen EJ, Fjallberg M, Soininen M, Torronen J (2000). Sleep and psychiatric symptoms in school-age children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39, 502508.
Backhaus J, Junghanns K, Broocks A, Riemann D, Hohagen F (2002). Test-retest reliability and validity of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index in primary insomnia. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 53, 737740.
Barclay NL, Eley TC, Buysse DJ, Archer SN, Gregory AM (2010). Diurnal preference and sleep quality: same genes? A study of young adult twins. Chronobiology International 27, 278296.
Brummett BH, Krystal AD, Ashley-Koch A, Kuhn CM, Zuchner S, Siegler IC, Barefoot JC, Ballard EL, Gwyther LP, Williams RB (2007 a). Sleep quality varies as a function of 5-HTTLPR genotype and stress. Psychosomatic Medicine 69, 621624.
Brummett BH, Krystal AD, Siegler IC, Kuhn C, Surwit RS, Zuchner S, Ashley-Koch A, Barefoot JC, Williams RB (2007 b). Associations of a regulatory polymorphism of monoamine oxidase-A gene promoter (MAOA-uVNTR) with symptoms of depression and sleep quality. Psychosomatic Medicine 69, 396401.
Button TMM, Lau JYF, Maughan B, Eley TC (2008). Parental punitive discipline, negative life events and gene-environment interplay in the development of externalizing behavior. Psychological Medicine 38, 2939.
Buysse DJ, Reynolds CF, Monk TH, Berman SR, Kupfer DJ (1989). The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index: a new instrument for psychiatric practice and research. Psychiatry Research 28, 192213.
Chelminski I, Ferraro FR, Pertros T, Plaud JJ (1997). Horne and Ostberg Questionnaire: a score distribution in a large sample of young adults. Personality and Individual Differences 23, 647652.
Cohen DJ, Dibble E, Grawe JM, Pollin W (1975). Reliably separating identical from fraternal twins. Archives of General Psychiatry 32, 13711375.
Dahl RE, Pelham WE, Wierson M (1991). The role of sleep disturbances in attention-deficit disorder symptoms – a case-study. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 16, 229239.
Eley TC (1997). General genes: A new theme in developmental psychopathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science 6, 9095.
Eley TC, Liang HL, Plomin R, Sham P, Sterne A, Williamson R, Purcell S (2004). Parental familial vulnerability, family environment, and their interactions as predictors of depressive symptoms in adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 43, 298306.
Ford DE, Kamerow DB (1989). Epidemiologic study of sleep disturbances and psychiatric disorders – an opportunity for prevention. Journal of the American Medical Association 262, 14791484.
Foshee VA, Ennett ST, Bauman KE, Suchindran C (2005). The association between family violence and adolescent dating violence onset does it vary by race, socioeconomic status, and family structure? Journal of Early Adolescence 25, 317344.
Giannotti F, Cortesi F, Sebastiani T, Ottaviano S (2002). Circadian preference, sleep and daytime behaviour in adolescence. Journal of Sleep Research 11, 191199.
Gregory AM, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Poulton R (2006). Family conflict in childhood: a predictor of later insomnia. Sleep 29, 10631067.
Gregory AM, Eley TC, O'Connor TG, Plomin R (2004). Etiologies of associations between childhood sleep and behavioral problems in a large twin sample. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 43, 744751.
Gregory AM, O'Connor TG (2002). Sleep problems in childhood: A longitudinal study of developmental change and association with behavioral problems. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41, 964971.
Gregory AM, van der Ende J, Willis TA, Verhulst FC (2008). Parent-reported sleep problems during development and self-reported anxiety/depression, attention problems, and aggressive behavior later in life. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 162, 330335.
Hall M, Buysse DJ, Nofzinger EA, Reynolds CF, Thompson W, Mazumdar S, Monk TH (2008). Financial strain is a significant correlate of sleep continuity disturbances in late-life. Biological Psychology 77, 217222.
Healey ES, Kales A, Monroe LJ, Bixler EO, Chamberlin K, Soldatos CR (1981). Onset of insomnia – role of life-stress events. Psychosomatic Medicine 43, 439451.
Heuer H, Kohlisch O, Klein W (2005). The effects of total sleep deprivation on the generation of random sequences of key-presses, numbers and nouns. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Section A: Human Experimental Psychology 58, 275307.
Horne JA, Östberg O (1976). A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness-eveningness in human circadian rhythms. International Journal of Chronobiology 4, 97–110.
Ireland JL, Culpin V (2006). The relationship between sleeping problems and aggression, anger, and impulsivity in a population of juvenile and young offenders. Journal of Adolescent Health 38, 649655.
Killgore WDS, Balkin TJ, Wesensten NJ (2006). Impaired decision-making following 49 hours of sleep deprivation. Journal of Sleep Research 15, 7–13.
Kudielka BM, Federenko IS, Hellhammer DH, Wust S (2006). Morningness and eveningness: the free cortisol rise after awakening in ‘early birds’ and ‘night owls’. Biological Psychology 72, 141146.
Lau JYF, Rijsdijk FV, Eley TC (2006). I think, therefore I am: a twin study of attributional style in adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47, 696703.
Lindberg N, Tani P, Appelberg B, Stenberg D, Naukkarinen H, Rimon R, Porkka-Heiskanen T, Virkkunen M (2003). Sleep among habitually violent offenders with antisocial personality disorder. Neuropsychobiology 47, 198205.
McBurnett K, Lahey BB, Rathouz PJ, Loeber R (2000). Low salivary cortisol and persistent aggression in boys referred for disruptive behavior. Archives of General Psychiatry 57, 3843.
McGue M, Bouchard TJ (1984). Adjustment of twin data for the effects of age and sex. Behavior Genetics 14, 325343.
Meltzer H, Gatward R, Goodman R, Ford T (2000). Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in Great Britain. The Stationery Office: London.
Mezick EJ, Matthews KA, Hall M, Strollo PJ, Buysse DJ, Kamarck TW, Owens JF, Reis SE (2008). Influence of race and socioeconomic status on sleep: Pittsburgh Sleep SCORE project. Psychosomatic Medicine 70, 410416.
Miczek KA, Fish EW, de Almeida RMM, Faccidomo S, Debold JF (2004). Role of alcohol consumption in escalation to violence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1036, 278289.
Moffitt TE, Brammer GL, Caspi A, Fawcett JP, Raleigh M, Yuwiler A, Silva P (1998). Whole blood serotonin relates to violence in an epidemiological study. Biological Psychiatry 43, 446457.
Monk TH, Buysse DJ, Potts JM, DeGrazia JM, Kupfer DJ (2004). Morningness-eveningness and lifestyle regularity. Chronobiology International 21, 435443.
Neale MC (1997). Mx: Statistical Modeling. 4th Department of Psychiatry: Richmond, VA.
Neale MC, Heath AC, Hewitt JK, Eaves LJ, Fulker DW (1989). Fitting genetic models with LISREL: hypothesis testing. Behavior Genetics 19, 3749.
Pajer K, Gardner W, Rubin RT, Perel J, Neal S (2001). Decreased cortisol levels in adolescent girls with conduct disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry 58, 297302.
Plomin R, DeFries JC, McClearn GE, McGuffin P (2008). Behavioral Genetics. Worth Publishers: New York.
Roth T, Kramer MD, Lutz T (1976). The effects of sleep deprivation on mood. Psychiatry Journal of the University of Ottawa 1, 136139.
Semiz UB, Algul A, Basoglu C, Ates MA, Ebrinc S, Cetin M, Gunes C, Gunay H (2008). The relationship between subjective sleep quality and aggression in male subjects with antisocial personality disorder. Turk Psikiyatri Dergisi 19, 373381.
Sham P, Sterne A, Purcell S, Cherny SS, Webster M, Rijsdijk FV, Asherson P, Ball D, Craig I, Eley TC, Goldberg D, Gray J, Mann A, Owen M, Plomin R (2000). GENESiS: creating a composite index of the vulnerability to anxiety and depression in a community-based sample of siblings. Twin Research 3, 316322.
Smith CS, Reilly C, Midkiff K (1989). Evaluation of three circadian rhythm questionnaires with suggestions for an improved measure of morningness. Journal of Applied Physiology 74, 728738.
Susman EJ, Dockray S, Schiefelbein VL, Herwehe S, Heaton JA, Dorn LD (2007). Morningness/eveningness, morning-to-afternoon cortisol ratio, and antisocial behavior problems during puberty. Developmental Psychology 43, 811822.
Vahtera J, Kivimaeki M, Hublin C, Korkeila K, Suominen S, Paunio T, Koskenvuo M (2007). Liability to anxiety and severe life events as predictors of new-onset sleep disturbances. Sleep 30, 15371546.
Wolfson AR, Carskadon MA (1998). Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents. Child Development 69, 875887.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 46 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 274 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.