Sleep Regulation, Physiology and Development, Sleep Duration and Patterns, and Sleep Hygiene in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children

Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2017 Feb;47(2):29-42. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2016.12.001. Epub 2017 Jan 20.


Sleep problems are common, reported by a quarter of parents with children under the age of 5 years, and have been associated with poor behavior, worse school performance, and obesity, in addition to negative secondary effects on maternal and family well-being. Yet, it has been shown that pediatricians do not adequately address sleep in routine well-child visits, and underdiagnose sleep issues. Pediatricians receive little formal training in medical school or in residency regarding sleep medicine. An understanding of the physiology of sleep is critical to a pediatrician׳s ability to effectively and confidently counsel patients about sleep. The biological rhythm of sleep and waking is regulated through both circadian and homeostatic processes. Sleep also has an internal rhythmic organization, or sleep architecture, which includes sleep cycles of REM and NREM sleep. Arousal and sleep (REM and NREM) are active and complex neurophysiologic processes, involving both neural pathway activation and suppression. These physiologic processes change over the life course, especially in the first 5 years. Adequate sleep is often difficult to achieve, yet is considered very important to optimal daily function and behavior in children; thus, understanding optimal sleep duration and patterns is critical for pediatricians. There is little experimental evidence that guides sleep recommendations, rather normative data and expert recommendations. Effective counseling on child sleep must account for the child and parent factors (child temperament, parent-child interaction, and parental affect) and the environmental factors (cultural, geographic, and home environment, especially media exposure) that influence sleep. To promote health and to prevent and manage sleep problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents start promoting good sleep hygiene, with a sleep-promoting environment and a bedtime routine in infancy, and throughout childhood. Thus, counseling families on sleep requires an understanding of sleep regulation, physiology, developmental patterns, optimal sleep duration recommendations, and the many factors that influence sleep and sleep hygiene.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Development / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Periodicity
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Hygiene / physiology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy