The mechanisms of nighttime airway obstruction are not fully established, but include circadian fluctuations in epinephrine and cortisol. To evaluate the relationship of circadian patterns in epinephrine and cortisol to nighttime airflow obstruction, 10 young adult asthma patients (ages 19 to 25 yr) were admitted to a hospital clinical research unit for a 3-day study during which plasma concentrations of epinephrine, cortisol, and histamine were determined along with white blood cell and eosinophil counts every 6 h (1600, 2200, 0400, and 1000 h). Six of the 10 patients experienced at least one episode of nocturnal asthma (defined by more than a 15% decrease in antemeridian (A.M.) to postmeridian (P.M.) FEV1 values). Plasma epinephrine levels (pg/ml) showed a circadian pattern, and the concentration at 2200 h was significantly (p = 0.039) different for the nocturnal and non-nocturnal asthma groups. Circulating eosinophil numbers were greater in subjects who had more frequent episodes of nocturnal asthma, and correlated with the frequency of nocturnal asthma (r = 0.732, p = 0.02, Spearman rank correlation) and average percent decrease in FEV1 (r = 0.667, p = 0.035). Plasma cortisol concentrations also showed circadian patterns, but no direct association with nocturnal asthma; plasma histamine concentrations showed no circadian patterns and no association with nocturnal asthma. Our findings indicate that changes in plasma epinephrine precede the development of nocturnal airway obstruction and contribute to the likelihood of nighttime airflow obstruction.