Moderation of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Diurnal Preference by Age in Adult Twins

Diurnal preference changes across the lifespan. However, the mechanisms underlying this age-related shift are poorly understood. The aim of this twin study was to determine the extent to which genetic and environmental influences on diurnal preference are moderated by age. Seven hundred and sixty-eight monozygotic and 674 dizygotic adult twin pairs participating in the University of Washington Twin Registry completed the reduced Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire as a measure of diurnal preference. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 93 years (mean = 36.23, SD = 15.54) and were categorized on the basis of age into three groups: younger adulthood (19-35 years, n = 1715 individuals), middle adulthood (36-64 years, n = 1003 individuals) and older adulthood (65+ years, n = 168 individuals). Increasing age was associated with an increasing tendency towards morningness (r = 0.42, p < 0.001). Structural equation modeling techniques parsed the variance in diurnal preference into genetic and environmental influences for the total sample as well as for each age group separately. Additive genetic influences accounted for 52%[46-57%], and non-shared environmental influences 48%[43-54%], of the total variance in diurnal preference. In comparing univariate genetic models between age groups, the best-fitting model was one in which the parameter estimates for younger adults and older adults were equated, in comparison with middle adulthood. For younger and older adulthood, additive genetic influences accounted for 44%[31-49%] and non-shared environmental influences 56%[49-64%] of variance in diurnal preference, whereas for middle adulthood these estimates were 34%[21-45%] and 66%[55-79%], respectively. Therefore, genetic influences on diurnal preference are attenuated in middle adulthood. Attenuation is likely driven by the increased importance of work and family responsibilities during this life stage, in comparison with younger and older adulthood when these factors may be less influential in determining sleep-wake timing. These findings have implications for studies aimed at identifying specific non-shared environmental influences, as well as molecular genetic studies aimed at identifying specific polymorphisms associated with diurnal preference.

Barclay NL, Watson NF, Buchwald D, Goldberg J. Moderation of genetic and environmental influences on diurnal preference by age in adult twins. Chronobiol Int. 2014 Mar;31(2):222-31.