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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is associated with sleep. This is because most deaths occur while then infant is sleeping, and in the early hours of the morning.

However, it is only relatively recently that SIDS is being studied as part of sleep-related disorder.

SIDS Risk Factors vs SIDS as a sleep disorder.

Certain risk factors for SIDS in babies 0 – 12 months old have been identified and are now well accepted. These include:

  • Prenatal factors such as mothers smoking in pregnancy
  • Neonatal factors such as sleep position. The stomach and side sleeping are both risk factors for SIDS.

However, such factors do not account for all SIDS deaths. It’s been a mystery until recently as to why apparently perfectly healthy babies – even when placed on their backs to sleep to lower the risk of SIDS.

Studies are now pointing to SIDS being a fatal conclusion to infant sleep disorders with one or more contributing sleep and breathing conditions. These may be familial or developmental.

SIDS risk as a familial sleep disorder

Infant Sleep Apnea

Infant Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder related to both Obstructive and Central Apnea in adult.

Symptoms include long pauses in breathing while sleeping, pauses occurring frequently in a pattern and reduced oxygen levels at night. ISA will not necessarily lead to sudden death, but it does make infants vulnerable, especially very young babies up to 3 months old.

Infant Sleep Apnea can be caused by

  • Narrow nasal passages. This risk factor has been observed in SIDS victims from family groups with high incidences of apnea (termed ‘Familial Aggregation of Obstructive Sleep Apnea’ or FAO)
  • Inherited brain abnormalities related to central sleep apnea.

SIDS has also been found to be more common in families with hypopnoea – a sleep disorder that is closely related to apnea. With hypopnoea, breathing rate shows significant decreases in airflow on inhalation. This can lead to fatally low oxygen levels.

Deficient Sleep State Regulation

Immature autonomic respiratory and cardiovascular functioning makes young babies vulnerable to other SIDS risk factors such as overheating or sleep position. Symptoms include abnormal REM sleep patterns.