Actigraphic sleep and cortisol in middle childhood: A multivariate behavioral genetics model

Jana Runze*, Saskia Euser, Mirjam Oosterman, Conor V. Dolan, M. Elisabeth Koopman-Verhoeff, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


To date, behavioral genetic studies investigated either sleep or cortisol levels in middle childhood, but not both simultaneously. Therefore, a pertinent question is the degree to which genetic factors and environmental factor contribute to the correlation between sleep and cortisol levels. To address this question, we employed the classical twin design. We measured sleep in 6-9-year-old twins (N = 436 twin pairs, "Together Unique" study) over four consecutive nights using actigraphy, and we measured morning cortisol on two consecutive days. Sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and wake episodes were used as indicators of sleep. Morning cortisol level was used as cortisol indicator. A structural equation model was fitted to estimate the contribution of additive genetic effects (A), shared (common) environmental effects, (C) and unique environmental effects (E) to phenotypic variances and covariances. Age, cohort, and sex were included as covariates. The heritability of sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and wake episodes were 52%, 45%, and 55%, respectively. Common environmental factors played no significant role. High genetic correlations between sleep duration and sleep efficiency and high genetic correlations between sleep efficiency and wake episodes were found. Shared environmental (29%) and unique environmental factors (53%) explained the variance in morning cortisol levels. Because the sleep and cortisol measures were found to be uncorrelated, we did not consider genetic and environmental contributions to the association between the sleep and cortisol measures. Our findings indicate that sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and wake episodes in children are mostly impacted by genetic factors and by unique environmental factors (including measurement error).

Original languageEnglish
Article number100094
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalComprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology
Early online date14 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Actigraphy
  • Children
  • Cortisol
  • Heritability
  • Sleep
  • Wake episodes


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