Controversial data has been obtained regarding the ideal sleeping position for toddlers with a new study stating that breathing difficulties are more likely to occur when they sleep on their backs rather than on their side or other positions. This effect is more likely to be experienced by children who have sleep apnea, a common sleeping disorder associated with respiratory trouble.
The study observed nearly 60 toddlers during sleep to explore the association between obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and body position. The time spent in each body position during sleep and the corresponding number of apnea events, the level of oxygen saturation in the blood and, time spent in each stage of sleep, and the respiratory disturbance index (RDI) were amongst the factors studied.
It was found that the respiratory disturbance index was considerably higher when the toddlers were put to sleep with their face upwards for more than half of the total sleep time. In addition, there was acceleration in the RDI when more than 75% of the sleep time was spent in the supine position. In fact, the RDI in this position was greater than in all other positions combined.
Several studies conducted previously on children had demonstrated that there is no association between sleep position and obstructive sleep apnea in children. But the present study reveals a strong, significant clinical association between the two factors.
Considerable caution has to be excised not to extrapolate the results to infants. The practice of having infants to sleep either on their sides or backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) might still be valuable.