I’m so proud of my wife—she’s beginning to think like me when it comes to my sleep-breathing paradigm. She just told me that a fellow mommy had just mentioned that her toddler son has major sleep problems at night, but when in his stroller or car seat, he sleeps fine. That brought up memories of taking our first son Jonas out for a drive, just to get him to sleep. Even now with my third son Brennan, he refuses to take naps in his crib, but falls asleep fine in his stroller. I experimented once by reclining his stroller back completely horizontal, and he woke up very quickly. This has huge implications which I’ll get to at the end of this post.
Her brilliant idea was that with strollers and car seats, you’re propped up partially, and not fully horizontal, as with a crib. For may children, they don’t like to sleep on their backs. Even if they’re able to sleep on their backs, they can’t stay asleep, and will wake up rather easily. When your back, the tongue and voice box falls back partially due to gravity, but if your jaws are more narrow than normal (most modern humans), then the tongue takes up relatively too much space and will obstruct your breathing much easier, especially when on your back (due to gravity) and when in deep sleep (due to muscle relaxation).
Infants are born with the epiglottis (the top of the voice box) overlapping the soft palate. After birth, it slowly descends, and creates a gap between these two structures called the orophayrnx. Only humans have a true oropharynx. The problem is that the tongue can fall back more easily into this space, potentially occluding your airway. This is also why only humans have choking and swallowing problems. The benefit to having all the floppy and pliable soft tissues is that it allowed for complex speech and communication.
Imagine if you are a natural side or stomach sleeper and you were forced to sleep on your back. How would you feel? Would you consider this a form of torture?
Think about what we’re doing to our infants by forcing them to sleep on their backs. The experts’ explanation for why it cuts down on the rate of SIDS (only 40%) is that it keeps babies in a lighter stage of sleep!!! Knowing what we know about quality deep sleep and brain development, it’s not surprising that there’s an epidemic of neuro-cognitive-behavrioral problems in our society. I read in one sleep blog that the rate of autism began to rise significantly just after the back to sleep campaign was started in 1993. I’m not saying that we should ignore pediatricians’ recommendations of infant sleep position, but doctors should at least acknowledge that there may be a real problem here.
Stay tuned for Part II of my post on infant sleep position and SIDS.
How do you feel about this issue? I’d like to hear your opinions in the comments box below.