The Ontogenesis of Mammalian Sleep: Form and Function

Curr Sleep Med Rep. 2020 Dec;6(4):267-279. doi: 10.1007/s40675-020-00190-y. Epub 2020 Nov 13.


Purpose of review: To present an up-to-date review and synthesis of findings about perinatal sleep development and function. I discuss landmark events in sleep ontogenesis, evidence that sleep promotes brain development and plasticity, and experimental considerations in this topic.

Recent findings: Mammalian sleep undergoes dramatic changes in expression and regulation during perinatal development. This includes a progressive decrease in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep time, corresponding increases in nonREM sleep and wake time, and the appearance of mature sleep regulatory processes (homeostatic and circadian). These developmental events coincide with periods of rapid brain maturation and heightened synaptic plasticity. The latter involve an initial experience-independent phase, when circuit development is guided by spontaneous activity, and later occurring critical periods, when these circuits are shaped by experience.

Summary: These ontogenetic changes suggest important interactions between sleep and brain development. More specifically, sleep may promote developmental programs of synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning and influence the opening and closing of critical periods of brain plasticity.

Keywords: Ontogeny; brain state; maturation; perinatal; plasticity; scaling; synaptic homeostasis.