PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Sleep undergoes major changes during development. Its relationship to the complex process of maturation in health and disease has recently received increased attention. This review aims to highlight the recent literature examining the interplay of altered sleep, brain development and emerging psychiatric illnesses in children and adolescents.
RECENT FINDINGS: In addition to a temporal relationship of sleep disturbances preceding the onset of psychiatric illnesses, a bi-directional interaction of altered sleep and symptom severity has increasingly been shown. Sleep architecture shows drastic age-dependent alterations on a structural level during the first 2 decades of life. However, findings regarding disease-specific patterns have remained inconsistent. On a functional level, recent evidence about sleep electroencephalographic characteristics points to a close relationship between slow waves, reflecting the depth of sleep, and cortical plasticity.
SUMMARY: Sleep provides a rich source of information to gain insight into both the healthy and disturbed processes of brain function and maturation. Emerging data suggest that the investigation of slow wave activity is a novel and promising tool for monitoring both of these processes. It is important to understand when and how deviations from typical developmental sleep alterations occur in order to improve prevention and early treatment of disorders affecting a substantial number of children and adolescents.