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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Dec;37(12):1981-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.04.014. Epub 2012 Jun 1.

Stability of the diurnal cortisol profile in children and adolescents.

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  • 1Pediatric Public Health Psychology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montréal, QC H4B 1R6, Canada.


The diurnal cortisol profile has been implicated in multiple physical and mental health conditions in children and adolescents; however, current knowledge regarding the stability of the diurnal cortisol profile is largely based on adults. Developmental changes throughout childhood and adolescence warrant examination of the stability of the diurnal cortisol profile during this stage in the lifecourse. The aim of the present study was to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the diurnal cortisol profile in children and adolescents. Participants (N=233; M=12.40, SD=1.83; 44.2% girls) in the Healthy Heart Project collected saliva samples, completed demographic questionnaires, and recorded bed and waking time. Intra-class correlations were calculated to evaluate the stability of aggregate and single sample measures of the diurnal cortisol profile. Total cortisol concentration (AUC(TG), AUC(AG)) and maximum sample were the most stable cortisol measures (ICC(avg)=0.54). Dynamic measures (AUC(I), slope; ICC(avg)=0.22) and other single sample measures (awake, lunch, dinner, bedtime, morning random, day random; ICC(avg)=0.28) were less stable. Of the developmentally relevant covariates tested, sleep duration, adrenarche, and time of awakening were most associated with cortisol values. Altogether, the diurnal cortisol profile yielded moderate to high stability in children and adolescents. These findings can inform methodological decisions regarding cortisol sampling protocols for children and adolescents.

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