Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Longitudinal sleep EEG trajectories indicate complex patterns of adolescent brain maturation

Irwin Feinberg, Ian G. Campbell


New longitudinal sleep data spanning ages 6–10 yr are presented and combined with previous data to analyze maturational trajectories of delta and theta EEG across ages 6–18 yr in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM delta power (DP) increased from age 6 to age 8 yr and then declined. Its highest rate of decline occurred between ages 12 and 16.5 yr. We attribute the delta EEG trajectories to changes in synaptic density. Whatever their neuronal underpinnings, these age curves can guide research into the molecular-genetic mechanisms that underlie adolescent brain development. The DP trajectories in NREM and REM sleep differed strikingly. DP in REM did not initially increase but declined steadily from age 6 to age 16 yr. We hypothesize that the DP decline in REM reflects maturation of the same brain arousal systems that eliminate delta waves in waking EEG. Whereas the DP age curves differed in NREM and REM sleep, theta age curves were similar in both, roughly paralleling the age trajectory of REM DP. The different maturational curves for NREM delta and theta indicate that they serve different brain functions despite having similar within-sleep dynamics and responses to sleep loss. Period-amplitude analysis of NREM and REM delta waveforms revealed that the age trends in DP were driven more by changes in wave amplitude rather than incidence. These data further document the powerful and complex link between sleep and brain maturation. Understanding this relationship would shed light on both brain development and the function of sleep.

  • delta
  • slow wave
  • fast Fourier transform
  • puberty


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