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    Nocturnal human sleep is composed of cycles between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep. In adults, the structure of ultradian cycles between NREM and REM sleep is well characterized; however, less is known about the developmental trajectories of ultradian sleep cycles across early childhood. Cross-sectional studies indicate that the rapid ultradian cycling of active-quiet sleep in infancy shifts to a more adult-like pattern of NREM-REM sleep cycling by the school-age years, yet longitudinal studies elucidating the details of this transition are scarce. To address this gap, we examined ultradian cycling during nocturnal sleep following 13 h of prior wakefulness in 8 healthy children at 3 longitudinal points: 2Y (2.5-3.0 years of age), 3Y (3.5-4.0 years of age), and 5Y (5.5-6.0 years of age). We found that the length of ultradian cycles increased with age as a result of increased NREM sleep episode duration. In addition, we observed a significant decrease in the number of NREM sleep episodes as well as a nonsignificant trend for a decrease in the number of cycles with increasing age. Together, these findings suggest a concurrent change in which cycle duration increases and the number of cycles decreases across development. We also found that, consistent with data from adolescents and adults, the duration of NREM sleep episodes decreased with time since lights-off whereas the duration of REM sleep episodes increased over this time period. These results indicate the presence of circadian modulation of nocturnal sleep in preschool children. In addition to characterizing changes in ultradian cycling in healthy children ages 2 to 5 years, this work describes a developmental model that may provide insights into the emergence of normal adult REM sleep regulatory circuitry as well as potential trajectories of dysregulated ultradian cycles such as those associated with affective disorders.


    Sean Lopp, William Navidi, Peter Achermann, Monique LeBourgeois, Cecilia Diniz Behn. Developmental Changes in Ultradian Sleep Cycles across Early Childhood. Journal of biological rhythms. 2017 Feb;32(1):64-74

    PMID: 28088873

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