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Keywords:

  • circadian rhythms;
  • clock genes;
  • genetics;
  • serotonin;
  • sleep

Abstract

Research investigating associations between specific genes and individual differences with regards to the quality and timing of sleep has primarily focussed on serotonin-related and clock genes. However, there are only a few studies of this type and most of those to date have not considered the possibility of gene–environment interaction. Here, we describe associations between sleep quality and diurnal preference and three functional polymorphisms: 5HTTLPR, PERIOD3, and CLOCK 3111. Furthermore, we assessed whether associations between genotypes and sleep phenotypes were moderated by negative life events—a test of gene–environment interaction. DNA from buccal swabs was collected from 947 individuals [mean age = 20.3 years (SD = 1.77), age range = 18–27 years; 61.8% female] and genotyped for the three polymorphisms. Participants completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire. There was a significant main effect of 5HTTLPR on sleep quality, indicating that “long–long” homozygotes experienced significantly poorer sleep quality (mean = 6.35, SD = 3.36) than carriers of at least one “short” allele (mean = 5.67, SD = 2.96; β = −0.34, P = 0.005). There were no main effects of 5HTTLPR on diurnal preference; no main effects of PERIOD3 or CLOCK on sleep quality or diurnal preference; and no significant interactions with negative life events. The main effect of the “long” 5HTTLPR allele contradicts previous research, suggesting that perhaps the effects of this gene are heterogeneous in different populations. Failure to replicate previous research in relation to PERIOD3 and CLOCK concurs with previous research suggesting that the effects of these genes are small and may be related to population composition. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.