It is believed failure to arouse from sleep is one of the mechanisms involved in SIDS, but why this affects some infants and not others is still unknown. Scientists in The Ritchie Centre are investigating infant sleep and control of arousal responses to understand how major SIDS risk factors alter these pathways. Prone sleeping is a major risk factor for SIDS, but the reasons why are also still unknown.
Previous studies have shown that control of heart rate and breathing is immature at birth, placing infants at risk of cardio-respiratory disturbances, and this risk is highest during sleep. Scientists in The Ritchie Centre have previously shown that infants who are slept prone have further impairments in control. More recently they have developed novel techniques to measure blood pressure during sleep and have demonstrated that blood pressure control and brain oxygen levels are reduced when healthy low risk infants are slept prone.
In new studies funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the team is studying infants born preterm to investigate why these infants are at much greater risk for SIDS than those born at term. We are also investigating possible mechanisms for why infants sleeping with a dummy are at reduced risk for SIDS, this is a critical step before the universal recommendation of dummies to parents.