Sleep Duration Partially Accounts for Race Differences in Diurnal Cortisol Dynamics
Objective: Emerging research demonstrates race differences in diurnal cortisol slope, an indicator of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA)-axis functioning associated with morbidity and mortality, with African Americans showing flatter diurnal slopes than their White counterparts. Sleep characteristics are associated with both race and with HPA-axis functioning. The present report examines whether sleep duration may account for race differences in cortisol dynamics. Method: Participants were 424 employed African American and White adults (mean age = 42.8 years, 84.2% White, 53.6% female) with no cardiovascular disease (Adult Health and Behavior Project—Phase 2 [AHAB-II] cohort, University of Pittsburgh). Cortisol slope was calculated using 4 salivary cortisol readings, averaged over each of 4 days. Demographic (age, sex), psychosocial (socioeconomic status [SES], affect, discrimination), and health behaviors (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity) variables were used as covariates, and sleep (self-report and accelerometry) was also assessed. Results: African Americans had flatter slopes than Whites (F(1, 411) = 10.45, B = .02, p = .001) in models adjusting for demographic, psychosocial, and health behavior covariates. Shorter actigraphy-assessed total sleep time was a second significant predictor of flatter cortisol slopes (F(1, 411) = 25.27, B = −.0002, p < .0001). Total sleep time partially accounted for the relationship between race and diurnal slope [confidence interval = .05 (lower = .014, upper .04)]. Conclusions: African Americans have flatter diurnal cortisol slopes than their White counterparts, an effect that may be partially attributable to race differences in nightly sleep duration. Sleep parameters should be considered in further research on race and cortisol.