MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, (S.I.D.S.). significant contributing factor?

Date: Tue Jan 11 11:49:39 2011
Posted By: Jeff Buzby, Ph.D., CHOC Research Institute
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 1294382494.Me

Dear Paul:

It sounds like you have some feel for the current state of our S.I.D.S. knowledge.  The Mayo Clinic also has a fairly reliable discussion of its most widely accepted causes & risk factorsWikipedia has a nice summary, as well.  There does seem to be a possible genetic predisposition for S.I.D.S., but there remains much to be learned about its triggering mechanism, as you suspected.

After surveying the research literature, I was able to find some studies relating to the effects of auditory stimuli.  In particular, there appears to be a great deal of excellent S.I.D.S. research from a group led by Dr. Patricia Franco in the Pediatric Sleep Unit at the Free University Children's Hospital of Brussels, Belgium.  They reported 2 studies finding that;

  1. prone sleeping was associated with a decrease in cardiac responses to auditory stimulation (1996), & 
  2. swaddled infants had greater cardiac autonomic changes in response to noise challenges than when they were not swaddled (2004).
These findings are more thoroughly summarized in an excellent 2005 study reporting the Influence of Swaddling on Sleep and Arousal Characteristics of Healthy Infants, freely available in its entirety.  It concludes, somewhat surprisingly, that although swaddling favors sleep continuity, it is associated with increased responsiveness to environmental auditory stress.

This seems to be some really fascinating, state-of-the-art research that has yet to become integrated into the most widely circulated recommendations for S.I.D.S. risk mitigation.  Although S.I.D.S. triggering is almost certainly multifactorial, auditory stimuli, or lack thereof, definitely seems like it should be considered as one of those possible factors.

Many thanks for your very thought-provoking question,

Jeff Buzby, Ph.D.
CHOC Research Institute

Franco P, Groswasser J, Sottiaux M, Broadfield E, Kahn A. (1996) Decreased cardiac responses to auditory stimulation during prone sleep. Pediatrics. 97(2):174-8.

Franco P, Scaillet S, Groswasser J, Kahn A.(2004) Increased cardiac autonomic responses to auditory challenges in swaddled infants. Sleep. 27(8):1527-32.

Franco P, Seret N, Van Hees JN, Scaillet S, Groswasser J, Kahn A. (2005) Influence of swaddling on sleep and arousal characteristics of healthy infants. Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1307-11.

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