Sleep spindles and intelligence in early childhood-developmental and trait-dependent aspects

Dev Psychol. 2016 Dec;52(12):2118-2129. doi: 10.1037/dev0000233.


Sleep spindles act as a powerful marker of individual differences in cognitive ability. Sleep spindle parameters correlate with both age-related changes in cognitive abilities and with the age-independent concept of IQ. While some studies have specifically demonstrated the relationship between sleep spindles and intelligence in young children, our previous work in older subjects revealed sex differences in the sleep spindle correlates of IQ, which was never investigated in small children before. We investigated the relationship between age, Raven Colored Progressive Matrices (CPM) scores and sleep spindles in 28 young children (age 4-8 years, 15 girls). We specifically investigated sex differences in the psychometric correlates of sleep spindles. We also aimed to separate the correlates of sleep spindles that are because of age-related maturation from other effects that reflect an age-independent relationship between sleep spindles and general intelligence. Our results revealed a modest positive correlation between fast spindle amplitude and age. Raven CPM scores positively correlated with both slow and fast spindle amplitude, but this effect remained a tendency in males and vanished after correcting for the effects of age. Age-corrected correlations between Raven CPM scores and both slow and fast spindle amplitude were only significant in females. Overall, our results show that in male children sleep spindles are a maturational marker, but in female children they indicate trait-like intelligence, in line with previous studies in adolescent and adult subjects. Thalamocortical white matter connectivity may be the underlying mechanism behind both higher spindle amplitude and higher intelligence in female, but not male subjects. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Spectrum Analysis