Sleep electroencephalography and brain maturation: developmental trajectories and the relation with cognitive functioning

Sleep Med. 2020 Feb;66:33-50. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2019.06.025. Epub 2019 Aug 8.


Sleep has a crucial role in brain functioning and cognition, and several sleep electroencephalography (EEG) hallmarks are associated with intellectual abilities, neural plasticity, and learning processes. Starting from this evidence, a growing interest has been raised regarding the involvement of the sleep EEG in brain maturation and cognitive functioning during typical development (TD). The aim of this review is to provide a general framework about the maturational changes and the functional role of the human sleep EEG during TD from birth to late adolescence (≤22 years). The reviewed findings show large developmental modifications in several sleep EEG hallmarks (slow wave activity, sleep spindles, theta activity, and cyclic alternating pattern) during TD, and many studies support the notion of an active role of sleep slow wave activity in supporting brain maturation. Moreover, we focus on the possible relation between sleep microstructure, intelligence, and several memory domains (declarative, emotional, procedural), showing that sleep EEG oscillations seem involved in intellectual abilities and learning processes during TD, although results are often conflicting and divergent from findings in adults. Starting from the present literature, we propose that larger methodological uniformity, greater attention to the topographical and maturational aspects of the sleep EEG oscillations and their mutual interactions, and a higher number of longitudinal studies will be essential to clarify the role of the sleep EEG in cognitive functioning during TD.

Keywords: Brain maturation; Cognition; Developmental trajectories; Intelligence; Memory; Sleep EEG.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Portugal
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires