The maturational trajectories of NREM and REM sleep durations differ across adolescence on both school-night and extended sleep

Irwin Feinberg, Nicole M. Davis, Evan de Bie, Kevin J. Grimm, Ian G. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We recorded sleep electroencephalogram longitudinally across ages 9-18 yr in subjects sleeping at home. Recordings were made twice yearly on 4 consecutive nights: 2 nights with the subjects maintaining their ongoing school-night schedules, and 2 nights with time in bed extended to 12 h. As expected, school-night total sleep time declined with age. This decline was entirely produced by decreasing non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep durations increased slightly but significantly. NREM and REM sleep durations also exhibited different age trajectories when sleep was extended. Both durations exceeded those on school-night schedules. However, the elevated NREM duration did not change with age, whereas REM durations increased significantly. We interpret the adolescent decline in school-night NREM duration in relation to our hypothesis that NREM sleep reverses changes produced in plastic brain systems during waking. The "substrate" produced during waking declines across adolescence, because synaptic elimination decreases the intensity (metabolic rate) of waking brain activity. Declining substrate reduces both NREM intensity (i.e., delta power) and NREM duration. The absence of a decline in REM sleep duration on school-night sleep and its age-dependent increase in extended sleep pose new challenges to understanding its physiological role. Whatever their ultimate explanation, these robust findings demonstrate that the two physiological states of human sleep respond differently to the maturational brain changes of adolescence. Understanding these differences should shed new light on both brain development and the functions of sleep.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R533-R540
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Brain maturation
  • Electroencephalogram

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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