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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:
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