Sleep in Infants and Young Children: Part One: Normal Sleep

Katherine Finn Davis RN, MSN, CPNP; Kathy P. Parker PhD, RN, FAAN; Gary L. Montgomery MD


J Pediatr Health Care. 2004;18(2) 

In This Article

Definition and Function of Sleep

Sleep is defined as a reversible behavioral state of decreased responsiveness and interaction with the environment (Carskadon & Dement, 1989). However, the essential function or functions of sleep remain to be fully elucidated. Sleep is considered a time in which the mind and body rest and recuperate, but in actuality, sleep is a period of considerable neurologic and physiologic activity (Zee & Turek, 1999). Sleep is not merely a state of rest but also is a period of intense brain activity involving higher cortical functions. At times, the brain during sleep is more active than in wakefulness (Dahl, 1998). Infants and young children spend a majority of their time asleep, suggesting that sleep is essential for the developing brain and body. By 3 years of age, the typical child has spent more time sleeping than in all wakeful activities combined (Dahl, 1998).

Studies suggest that sleep is essential in maintaining optimal health. Most of the information known about the possible function of normal sleep is based on studies investigating the effects of sleep deprivation and anecdotal evidence documenting the effects of sleep loss. Sleep deprivation studies in adult humans and animals have focused on physiologic and immunologic consequences of sleep loss and suggest that sleep is involved in maintenance of normal bodily functions and optimal immune performance (Everson, 1993 and Rogers et al., 2001). Specifically, sleep is believed to play a role in the growth and healing of body tissues, learning and processing of memory, and central nervous system repair (Zee & Turek, 1999). Inadequate sleep quality or quantity can have a negative impact on the ability to pay attention and concentrate (Chervin et al., 2002 and Chervin et al., 1997), and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning (Dahl, 1996 and Weissbluth, 1987). Comparable studies with infants and young children remain to be conducted.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.