Study objectives: To compare arousal responses to somatosensory and hypoxic stimuli in sleeping human infants and to determine whether sleep state and postnatal age exerted similar changes in these arousal responses.
Design: We delivered somatosensory (nasal air-jet) stimulation and mild hypoxia (15% oxygen) to 10 healthy term infants aged 2 to 4 weeks, 2 to 3 months, and 5 to 6 months during identified sleep states. Hypoxic challenges were terminated at arousal, when the oxygen saturation fell below 85%, or at 5 minutes (failure to arouse).
Results: Infants failed to arouse to a greater percentage of hypoxia tests during quiet sleep (QS) than during active sleep (AS) at 2 to 3 months and 5 to 6 months of age (P < 0.01). Infants failed to arouse to a greater percentage of hypoxic challenges during QS at 2 to 3 months and 5 to 6 months than at 2 to 4 weeks of age. Arousal latency to hypoxia was significantly longer in QS than in AS at each study age; however, arousal latency was not affected by postnatal age. Arousal thresholds to somatosensory stimulation were significantly greater in QS than in AS, except at 2 to 4 weeks of age. In AS, arousability to the air-jet was greater at 2 to 3 months compared to 2 to 4 weeks of age (P < 0.05); in QS it was lower at 5 to 6 months compared to 2 to 4 weeks of age (P < 0.05). Arousal latency to hypoxia and arousal thresholds to air-jet stimulation were not correlated within infants.
Conclusion: We conclude that arousal responses of infants to somatosensory and respiratory stimuli are similarly affected by sleep state and postnatal age. Infants are less arousable to both stimulus modalities in QS than in AS, and less arousable at 5 to 6 months of age than at 2 to 4 weeks in QS.