Objective: Prior to sleep onset in human adults, distal body temperatures change progressively from wakefulness levels (low skin temperatures and a high core temperature) to sleep levels (high skin temperatures and a low core temperature) due to distal skin vasodilation and greater body cooling. It is not known whether this sleep preparedness exists in preterm neonates, even though sleep has a key role in neonatal health and neurodevelopment. The present study's objectives were to determine whether sleep preparedness (as observed in adults) can be evidenced in preterm neonates, and to assess repercussions on thermal stress.
Methods: During a 12-h night-time polysomnography session, skin temperatures (recorded with an infrared camera), sleep, and wakefulness episodes were measured in 18 nine-day-old preterm neonates.
Results: Fifteen wakefulness episodes were considered. Our results highlighted significant pre-sleep distal skin vasodilation (mainly at the foot: an increase of 0.38 °C in the 20 min preceding sleep onset) for the first time in preterm neonates. This vasodilation occurred even though (1) most factors known to influence pre-sleep vasodilation in adults were not present in these neonates, and (2) the neonates were nursed in a nearly constant thermal environment. The vasodilatation-related increase in body heat loss corresponded to a 0.15°C/h fall in mean body temperature (calculated using partitional calorimetry).
Conclusion: Compensation for this body heat loss and the maintenance of body homeothermia would require a 4% increase in metabolic heat production. In neonates, this type of energy expenditure cannot be maintained for a long period of time.
Keywords: Neonate; Takefulness; Thermoregulation.
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