The purpose of this study was to explore whether childhood family environments moderated the relation between daily stress and daily biological outcomes (sleep, cortisol output) in healthy young adults.
There were 87 participants, ages 19 to 25 who provided information on characteristics of their childhood family environment (conflict, parental warmth).
For 1 week they completed a daily stress checklist via electronic diary, provided salivary cortisol samples 4 times a day, and wore an Actiwatch to measure sleep (minutes, efficiency). Data was analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling.
Family risk significantly moderated the relation between daily number of stressors and sleep minutes (b = -12.10, p = .02), such that the more difficult one's childhood environment, the less sleep individuals got on days in which they experienced a greater number of stressors. Parental warmth moderated the relation between stress severity and cortisol output (b = -0.19, p = .04), such that the less parental warmth individuals received during childhood, the more cortisol they secreted on days that they experienced more severe stress.
The childhood psychosocial environment may have long-term effects on biological responses to daily stress, creating vulnerability to disease in individuals from difficult childhoods.