This study assessed the heritability of ambulatory heart period, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and respiration rate and tested the hypothesis that the well-established correlation between these variables is determined by common genetic factors. In 780 healthy twins and siblings, 24-h ambulatory recordings of ECG and thorax impedance were made. Genetic analyses showed considerable heritability for heart period (37%-48%), RSA (40%-55%), and respiration rate (27%-81%) at all daily periods. Significant genetic correlations were found throughout. Common genes explained large portions of the covariance between heart period and RSA and between respiration rate and RSA. During the afternoon and night, the covariance between respiration rate and RSA was completely determined by common genes. This overlap in genes can be exploited to increase the power of linkage studies to detect genetic variation influencing cardiovascular disease risk.