Waking up too early - the consequences of preterm birth on sleep development

J Physiol. 2018 Dec;596(23):5687-5708. doi: 10.1113/JP274950. Epub 2018 Jun 2.


Good quality sleep of sufficient duration is vital for optimal physiological function and our health. Sleep deprivation is associated with impaired neurocognitive function and emotional control, and increases the risk for cardiometabolic diseases, obesity and cancer. Sleep develops during fetal life with the emergence of a recognisable pattern of sleep states in the preterm fetus associated with the development, maturation and connectivity within neural networks in the brain. Despite the physiological importance of sleep, surprisingly little is known about how sleep develops in individuals born preterm. Globally, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (<37 weeks gestation) each year, and these babies are at significant risk of neural injury and impaired brain development. This review discusses how sleep develops during fetal and neonatal life, how preterm birth impacts on sleep development to adulthood, and the factors which may contribute to impaired brain and sleep development, leading to altered neurocognitive, behavioural and motor capabilities in the infant and child. Going forward, the challenge is to identify specific risk factors for impaired sleep development in preterm babies to allow for the design of interventions that will improve the quality and quantity of sleep throughout life.

Keywords: neurodevelopment; perinatal; preterm; sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Premature Birth*
  • Sleep*