In young adults, memory consolidation during sleep is supported by a time-coordinated interplay of sleep spindles and slow oscillations. However, given tremendous developmental changes in sleep spindle and slow oscillation morphology, it remains elusive whether the same mechanisms as identified in young adults are comparably functional across childhood. Here, we characterise slow and fast sleep spindles and their temporal coupling to slow oscillations in 24 pre-school children. Further, we ask whether slow and fast sleep spindles and their modulation during slow oscillations are similarly associated with behavioural indicators of declarative memory consolidation as suggested from adult literature. Employing a development-sensitive, individualised approach, we reliably identify an inherent, development-specific fast sleep spindle type, though nested in the adult-like slow sleep spindle frequency range, along with a dominant slow sleep spindle type. Further, we provide evidence for the modulation of fast sleep spindles during slow oscillations, already in pre-school children. However, the temporal coordination between fast sleep spindles and slow oscillations is weaker and less precise than expected from adult research. While we do not find evidence for a critical contribution of the pattern of fast sleep spindle modulation during slow oscillations for memory consolidation, crucially, both inherent slow and fast sleep spindles separately are differentially related to sleep-associated consolidation of items of varying quality. While a higher number of slow sleep spindles is associated with stronger maintenance of medium-quality memories, more fast sleep spindles are linked to higher gain of low-quality items. Our results provide evidence for two functionally relevant inherent sleep spindle types in pre-school children despite not fully matured sleep spindle – slow oscillation coupling.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience