Extensive research has been accumulated demonstrating that sleep is essential for processes of memory consolidation in adults. In children and infants, a great capacity to learn and to memorize coincides with longer and more intense sleep. Here, we review the available data on the influence of sleep on memory consolidation in healthy children and infants, as well as in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a model of prefrontal impairment, and consider possible mechanisms underlying age-dependent differences. Findings indicate a major role of slow wave sleep (SWS) for processes of memory consolidation during early development. Importantly, longer and deeper SWS during childhood appears to produce a distinctly superior strengthening of hippocampus-dependent declarative memories, but concurrently prevents an immediate benefit from sleep for procedural memories, as typically observed in adults. Studies of ADHD children point toward an essential contribution of prefrontal cortex to the preferential consolidation of declarative memory during SWS. Developmental studies of sleep represent a particularly promising approach for characterizing the supra-ordinate control of memory consolidation during sleep by prefrontal-hippocampal circuitry underlying the encoding of declarative memory.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.