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Effect of prone sleeping on circulatory control in infants
  1. Angeline Chong,
  2. Nuala Murphy,
  3. Thomas Matthews
  1. Department of Paediatrics, Rotunda Hospital, Dublin 1, Republic of Ireland
  1. Professor T Matthews


BACKGROUND The mechanism of death in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) remains unclear. Progressive bradycardia is the pre-eminent terminal event, suggesting that circulatory failure might be a crucial factor. Vasomotor tone regulates the circulatory system by controlling blood volume distribution while maintaining venous return and blood pressure.

AIM To examine whether prone sleeping, the most consistently identified risk factor for SIDS, has a measurable influence on vasomotor/circulatory control.

METHODS 44 full term infants (mean age, 7.9 weeks) were studied during an overnight sleep. Recordings were made while the infants were horizontal and asleep in the supine and prone positions, and repeated after a head up tilt to 60°, maintained for 30 minutes, while in both sleep positions. Blood pressure, heart rate, anterior shin, and anterior abdominal wall skin temperatures were measured.

RESULTS Systolic blood pressure was lower, but peripheral skin temperature and heart rate were higher during sleep, while horizontal, in the prone rather than the supine position. After tilting, there was a greater reduction in blood pressure and a greater increase in peripheral skin temperature and heart rate when in the prone position. Anterior abdominal wall skin temperature did not vary in either sleeping positions while horizontal or tilted.

CONCLUSION Prone sleeping has a measurable effect on circulatory control, with a reduction in vasomotor tone resulting in peripheral vasodilatation, a higher peripheral skin temperature, a lower blood pressure, and a higher resting heart rate. Because vasomotor tone is crucially important in circulatory control this could be a factor in increasing the risk of SIDS.

  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • autonomic function
  • head up tilt test
  • vasomotor tone

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