Sleep Spindle Characteristics in Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Their Relation to Cognition

Neural Plast. 2016;2016:4724792. doi: 10.1155/2016/4724792. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


Empirical evidence indicates that sleep spindles facilitate neuroplasticity and "off-line" processing during sleep, which supports learning, memory consolidation, and intellectual performance. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) exhibit characteristics that may increase both the risk for and vulnerability to abnormal spindle generation. Despite the high prevalence of sleep problems and cognitive deficits in children with NDD, only a few studies have examined the putative association between spindle characteristics and cognitive function. This paper reviews the literature regarding sleep spindle characteristics in children with NDD and their relation to cognition in light of what is known in typically developing children and based on the available evidence regarding children with NDD. We integrate available data, identify gaps in understanding, and recommend future research directions. Collectively, studies are limited by small sample sizes, heterogeneous populations with multiple comorbidities, and nonstandardized methods for collecting and analyzing findings. These limitations notwithstanding, the evidence suggests that future studies should examine associations between sleep spindle characteristics and cognitive function in children with and without NDD, and preliminary findings raise the intriguing question of whether enhancement or manipulation of sleep spindles could improve sleep-dependent memory and other aspects of cognitive function in this population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*