Failure to arouse in response to hypoxia has been described in infants at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and has been suggested as a possible mechanism for SIDS. However, most SIDS victims are not in a high-risk group before death. Thus, if a hypoxic arousal disorder is an important contributor to SIDS, normal infants might fail to arouse from sleep in response to hypoxia. To test this hypothesis, the authors studied hypoxic arousal responses in 18 healthy term infants younger than 7 months of age (age 12.1 ± 1.7 [SEM] weeks; 56% girls). Hypoxic arousal challenges were performed during quiet sleep by rapidly decreasing inspired oxygen tension (Pio2) to 80 mm Hg for 3 minutes or until arousal (eye opening, agitation, and crying) occurred. Tests were performed in duplicate when possible. Only 8 infants (44%) aroused in response to one or more hypoxic challenges; arousal occurred during 8 (32%) of 25 trials. There were no significant differences in lowest Pio2 or arterial oxygen saturation during hypoxia between those infants who aroused and those who failed to arouse. All 18 infants had a fall in their end-tidal carbon dioxide tension during hypoxia, suggesting that each had a hypoxic ventilatory response despite failure to arouse in the majority. Periodic breathing occurred following hypoxia in only 1 (13%) of the 8 trials that resulted in arousal, compared with 16 (94%) of 17 trials without arousal (P < .005). It is concluded that the majority of normal infants younger than 7 months of age fail to arouse from quiet sleep in response to hypoxia, despite the apparent presence of a hypoxic ventilatory response.

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