Background: Brain maturation is reflected in the sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) by a decline in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) slow wave activity (SWA) throughout adolescence and a related decrease in sleep depth. However, this trajectory and its sex and pubertal differences lack replication in population-based samples. We tested age-related changes in SWA (0.4–4 Hz) power and odds ratio product (ORP), a standardized measure of sleep depth. Methods: We analyzed the sleep EEG of 572 subjects aged 6-21 y (48% female, 26% racial/ethnic minority) and 332 subjects 5-12 y followed-up at 12-22 y. Multivariable-adjusted analyses tested age-related cross-sectional and longitudinal trajectories of SWA and ORP. Results: SWA remained stable from age 6 to 10, decreased between ages 11 and 17, and plateaued from age 18 to 21 (p-cubic<0.001); females showed a longitudinal decline 23% greater than males by 13 y, while males experienced a steeper slope after 14 y and their longitudinal decline was 21% greater by 19 y. More mature adolescents (75% female) experienced a greater longitudinal decline in SWA than less mature adolescents by 14 y. ORP showed an age-related increasing trajectory (p-linear<0.001) with no sex or pubertal differences. Conclusions: We provide population-level evidence for the maturational decline and sex and pubertal differences in SWA in the transition from childhood to adolescence, while introducing ORP as a novel metric in youth. Along with previous studies, the distinct trajectories observed suggest that age-related changes in SWA reflect brain maturation and local/synaptic processes during this developmental period, while those of ORP may reflect global/state control of NREM sleep depth.
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