Is There a Testosterone Awakening Response in Humans?

Christopher W Kuzawa*, Alexander V. Georgiev, Thomas McDade, Sonny Agustin Bechayda, Lee T. Gettler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Circulating testosterone (T) follows a diurnal pattern with high waking levels that decline across the day. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis produces cortisol in a similar manner but also undergoes an abrupt increase in hormone secretion immediately upon waking (a cortisol awakening response, CAR). Whether the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and circulating T levels, exhibit a similar post-waking response is unclear. Here we describe post-waking T changes in a sample of 108 young adult males from metropolitan Cebu City, the Philippines. As expected, salivary T was higher at waking than in the evening but, remarkably, 60 % of this diurnal decline occurred within 30 min of awakening. There was a strong inverse linear relationship between waking T and the post-waking T decline, such that men with higher waking T experienced a more rapid decline in the hormone. Even though fathers had lower waking T, they experienced a greater post-waking decline than non-fathers. Men with a larger positive CAR had modestly attenuated post-waking T declines. We speculate that these findings reflect a testosterone awakening response (TAR) that helps partition the target tissue effects of T by time of day. T rises overnight to facilitate muscle anabolism at a time when the hormone’s impacts on social behavior are limited. Upon waking, the rapid drop in T helps shift from anabolic to catabolic processes in support of physical activity, while also calibrating T levels in line with the competing social priorities of the individual, as determined by the current balance of behavioral investment towards mating and parental effort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-183
Number of pages18
JournalAdaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Cortisol
  • Life history
  • Mating
  • Psychophysiology
  • Reproductive strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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