The relation between sleep and neurocognitive development in infancy and early childhood: A neuroscience perspective

Adv Child Dev Behav. 2021:60:9-27. doi: 10.1016/bs.acdb.2020.11.003. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Sleep is essential for human life. It has different characteristics in the early stages of life compared to later periods: during development, qualitative and quantitative changes in sleep features occur such as the onset of REM/NREM sleep at 3 months, the progressive increase of night sleep duration, and the reduction of total sleep time. Sleep seems to be essential in the cognitive functions' development, especially in the first period of life. Indeed, higher rates of night sleep at the age of 12 and 18 months are associated with higher executive functions' performance. Furthermore, memory consolidation occurs during sleep and sleep contributes to children's learning not only in retaining information but also in organizing memories most efficiently. Therefore, sleep problems could cause negative effects on some features of cognitive development like memory, executive functions, and learning process. There is also an intimate relationship between sleep and regulation of emotional brain functions, with a link between sleep disturbance and behavioral problems.

Keywords: Development; NREM; Neurocognitive functioning; REM; Sleep structure.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Learning
  • Memory Consolidation*
  • Sleep*
  • Sleep, REM