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Sleep physiology in children

Merrill S Wise, MD
Daniel G Glaze, MD
Section Editor
Ronald D Chervin, MD, MS
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Sleep is an active, dynamic physiologic process that has a critical impact on many aspects of health, daytime function, and development. During the first few years of life, a number of important developmental changes occur, leading to the expected adult sleep/wake pattern [1-3].

This topic review will describe normal sleep/wake patterns in infancy and childhood. This will provide background for an evaluative approach to sleep problems in children, which is discussed in a separate topic review. (See "Assessment of sleep disorders in children".)

Sleep stages and architecture in adults are discussed in detail separately. (See "Stages and architecture of normal sleep".)


Two distinct sleep states have been identified based on specific physiological variables: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Standardized methods have been developed with regard to scoring sleep states in infants, children and adults [4,5].

REM sleep is a physiologically distinct state, characterized by an activated EEG pattern (similar in some respects to wakefulness) associated with marked decrease in muscle tone and episodic bursts of rapid eye movements. Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep [6,7].


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Mar 23, 2016.
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