Arousals from sleep allow sleep to continue in the face of stimuli that normally elicit responses during wakefulness and also permit awakening. Such an adaptive mechanism implies that any malfunction may have clinical importance. Inadequate control of arousal in infants and children is associated with a variety of sleep-related problems. An excessive propensity to arouse from sleep favors the development of repeated sleep disruptions and insomnia, with impairment of daytime alertness and performance. A lack of an adequate arousal response to a noxious nocturnal stimulus reduces an infant's chances of autoresuscitation, and thus survival, increasing the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The study of arousability is complicated by many factors including the definition of an arousal; the scoring methodology; the techniques used (spontaneous arousability versus arousal responses to endogenous or exogenous stimuli); and the confounding factors that complicate the determination of arousal thresholds by changing the sleeper's responses to a given stimulus such as prenatal drug, alcohol, or cigarette use. Infant age and previous sleep deprivation also modify thresholds. Other confounding factors include time of night, sleep stages, the sleeper's body position, and sleeping conditions. In this paper, we will review these different aspects for the study of arousals in infants and also report the importance of these studies for the understanding of the pathophysiology of some clinical conditions, particularly SIDS.
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