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Sleep Apnea, Sleep Position, SIDS, & Brain Development

Posted Oct 08 2010 6:50pm

I was talking with a mother about her young child, who just happened to be a natural stomach sleeper. The mother was very emotional as she described what she had to do a few months after her daughter was first born, to keep her from rolling onto her stomach. Her doctors chastised her for allowing her child to sleep on her stomach, despite the fact that she slept much more deeply and soundly in this position. There were even implied threats of calling children’s services.

What she ended up doing was to stay up all night, watching her sleep, just to make sure that she didn’t roll over or stop breathing. Often, she would end up crying due to her chronic sleep deprivation and seeing that her daughter wasn’t able to sleep comfortably at all on her back.

I wrote in the past about a proposed theory that the back to sleep campaign in the early 1990s, although it did lower the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (by about 50%), it may have aggravated the sudden rise in the rate of autism. The rationale is that by keeping infants on their backs, it keeps them in a lighter stage of sleep, so that they’re more likely to wake up if there’s any form of partial or total obstruction. If this is true, then you’re also preventing proper memory consolidation and brain development.

I’m not proposing that we all go against the back sleeping recommendation for infants. However, I just wanted to bring up a potentially important issue that deserves much more discussion and further study.

What do you think about this issue? Is it plausible, or just a ridiculous theory? I’d like to hear your opinions.

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