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Dying in Your Sleep: Possible Causes of Death

Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.

Why Do People Die in Their Sleep?

Have you ever heard of cases where people go to bed happy and well, only to be found dead the next morning? The possibility of a sudden and unexpected death is terrifying. It makes you feel anxious about the uncontrollable nature of life.

It might even lead to thoughts about whether you should bother going to sleep, at all. You go off to close your eyes merely because you want to take a breather – to retire and recharge. But, the breather turns out to be a permanent one.

Losing a loved one in this manner can be shocking, especially if the deceased person had no known health issues. One day, this person is so full of zest. The next day? He’s dead, and you could only scratch your head as you wonder about the cause. There are no warning signs. A bereaved family can’t help but accept the situation.

Even if it happens to someone you barely know, the thought of a person dying in his sleep is fearsome. It evokes the emotion that regardless of how much you try to avoid it, death comes - sometimes when you least expect it.

If you’re the person who regularly keeps himself conditioned to avoid sickness and eventual death, you may feel cheated. Even though you comply with your end of the bargain to be fit and healthy, you still can’t be the victor in the quest to prevent death. It’s as if all your efforts went down the drain.

On the other hand, some view death while sleeping as the most peaceful way to go. Compared to being a victim of a tragic vehicular accident, a crime, or an incurable disease, passing away in your sleep eliminates a great deal of struggle and pain.

Come to think of it, dying in your sleep seems to be a peaceful way to go, indeed. Some people think it’s a coward’s choice of dying. Others disagree by insisting that it’s brave. If an elderly person dies in his sleep, the thought is less terrifying - compared to the involvement of a young person who passed away without warning.

Nevertheless, is it a justifiable means to die?

People are sometimes so baffled by the death that they grasp for straws of explanation, resorting to ancient folklore or the belief that nightmares cause a person's death. As history records it, news that some people die during sleep are not recent. The fact that death comes unexpectedly is rather unfortunate, but it’s a fact that all of us should be aware of.

But believing in superstitious explanations is a very dangerous habit. Death during sleep isn’t caused by nightmares nor can be explained by ancient stories. Our best chances in understanding what causes it and why it happens with such regularity lies in the scientific community.

Medical professionals are quick to point out that there are scientific explanations and medical conditions that can cause death during sleep. In this article, we will explore some of these possibilities.

The line between sleep and death is sometimes questionable.

The line between sleep and death is sometimes questionable.

Sleep Apnea: Breathing Stops During Sleep

One disorder which commonly affects older people or infants and can cause death during sleep is central sleep apnea. It occurs due to your brain’s improper way of sending signals to your muscles.

Apnea refers to the pause or stop in breathing and each apnea's duration is about 10 seconds to a few minutes. What happens is that the sleeping person repeatedly stops breathing for a period of time throughout the night. The brain pauses in sending its signals to the muscles that manage breathing. Throughout the night, a person suffering from apnea may have 5 to 30 apneas each hour and as a result, there is an increased risk of death.

According to studies, humans are equipped with a certain amount of nerve cells which are responsible for commanding the body to breathe. As we grow old, these cells lessen in number. This loss of nerve cells increases an older person's chance of having central sleep apnea.

Likewise, certain health conditions like brain infection, cervical spine problems, obesity, and Parkinson's disease, stroke and heart failure can cause central sleep apnea. Particular illnesses, because they lead to dysfunctions, can bring about the fatal condition.

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Another cause of sleep apnea is sleeping at a relatively high altitude - more than 2,500 meters above sea level. This is due to the unavailability of a sufficient amount of oxygen at high altitudes. The blood's reduced oxygen content induces instability in breathing.

While anyone can develop central sleep apnea, the condition is known to affect more males than females. The gender difference addresses the unique features of upper airway anatomy and upper airway muscle function in males.

Additionally, the effects of sex hormones are behind the prevalence of the condition in males. Females who are in the post-menopausal stage are less likely susceptible to develop the condition.

A preventive method of treating central sleep apnea is the use of supplemental oxygen. With a supply, blood gets its necessary oxygen content despite the periodic difficulty in breathing during an unconscious state.

Among the list of common symptoms includes sudden awakenings with shortness of breath, difficulty in staying asleep, chest pain during evenings, and excessive sleepiness during the day. If you have all of these symptoms, it doesn't immediately mean you need to worry.

Main Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  1. Loud snoring
  2. Gasping for air during sleep
  3. Morning headaches
  4. Excessive day time sleepiness or what is referred to as hypersomnia
  5. Irritability
  6. Episodes in which you stop breathing during your sleep. Other people who see you stop breathing during your sleep often report this.
  7. Waking up with a very dry mouth
  8. Difficulty in staying asleep or insomnia
  9. Difficulty in paying attention while you are awake

If you are having some or all of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from central sleep apnea. It’s possible that you are afflicted by a completely different illness. There’s quite a good number of illnesses that have the same symptoms. Such illnesses include congestive heart failure, Hypothyroid Disease, kidney failure, amyotrophic lateral disease (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases.

However, you should consider consulting a medical professional - to be certain and to rule out the possibility of the condition. Different doctors can treat central sleep apnea. Among them are:

  • Primary care physicians
  • Dentists
  • Neurologists
  • Surgeons
  • Psychiatrists and other specialists who treat mental health problems
  • Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialists
  • Sleep doctors

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Breathing Difficulty Due to Airway Obstruction
Sometimes, obstructive sleep apnea is mistaken to be similar to central sleep apnea. However, the two are different. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs more commonly than the latter.

It happens when the muscles in your throat intermittently relax and block the passageway while you're asleep. With this condition, your breathing pattern becomes abnormal and you begin to take shallow breaths.

To keep up with the new breathing pattern, your chest muscles and diaphragm need to work harder. Particularly, their new roles involve opening the obstructed passageway and pulling air into the lungs.

An apparent symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Although, not all cases of snoring are indications of a person who suffers from the fatal condition. However, if a person snores noticeably loud (and he doesn't usually snore at all - or at least, that much), there may be an obstruction in his airway.

A popular method of treatment is the use if a mouthpiece while you're asleep. The purpose of the device is to thrust the jaw forward during an unconscious state. Doing so won't block the passageway to enable regular breathing patterns.

Differences Between Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA occurs when your upper ways get partially blocked or completely blocked while you are sleeping. Because of the obstruction, the muscles in your diaphragm and chest have to work much harder to open and free up the blocked airways and draw air towards your lungs.
  2. Central Sleep Apnea or CSA occurs when your respiratory drive ceases to the point wherein it leads to a lack of respiratory movement. When you are asleep, your breathing is disrupted by the wrong messages from your brain. With Central Sleep Apnea, you are more than capable to breathe but your brain doesn’t tell your chest and lung muscles to breathe. Thus your body does not attempt to breathe.
  3. To provide a practical illustration of the difference between Obstructive Hypopneas and Central Hypopneas, just think of a vacuum cleaner. If you are covering the suction nozzle of the cleaner with your hand, then it’s Obstructive Hypopneas. If you are using limited electricity to run the vacuum cleaner, then it’s Central Hypopneas.
  4. It's Obstructive Hypopnea if you are experiencing paradoxical breathing, snoring during the event, a significant increase in PAP flow signal, and a flattening of nasal pressure flow. It’s Central Hypopnea if you do not experience any of the above.

When Should You See a Doctor?
Loud snoring especially when you don’t usually snore can indicate a potentially serious problem. However, it is also worth noting here that not all who has sleep apnea snores. If you have several of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s highly recommended that you set an appointment with your doctor. Be as honest as possible with the physician. If you have a sleep problem that often leaves you irritable, unusually sleepy, and seemingly always fatigued, make it a point to inform your doctor about what you are going through.

Risk Factors For Central Sleep Apnea

  1. Heart disorders. If you are currently suffering from any type of heart disorder, then you are more susceptible to developing a central sleep apnea problem. The risk significantly increases if you have congestive heart failure. Furthermore, you are also in higher risk if your immediate family has a history of heart problems. It’s likely that you have inherited the genes that cause some of these heart problems.
  2. Being male. It is already a proven fact that central sleep apnea tends to develop more often in males than in females. A good number of published population studies back up this fact. Unfortunately, there is no definitive explanation for the discrepancy but there are several pathophysiological differences that may explain the discrepancy. Such differences include aging mechanisms, hormones, breathing control, upper airway anatomy, and obesity. All of these differences are believed to play a role in the development of central sleep apnea.
  3. Suffered a stroke. If you have had a stroke, this greatly increases your risk for central sleep apnea. This is why a huge percentage of stroke victims are often diagnosed with central sleep apnea sooner or later.
  4. Being of older age. You have a much higher risk for central sleep apnea if you are middle-aged and above. It is commonly believed that the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age.
  5. You are also at risk if you are currently using narcotic pain medications. Barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and opiates can all affect your breathing and lead to the development of central sleep apnea. Opiates can cause sleepiness as a side effect. They can cause significant effects on your breathing while you are asleep. Some of the most common opiates include hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone, sufentanil, propoxyphene, pentazocine, oxycodone, mepridine, morphine, codeine, and buprenorphine. They can play a role in the development of central sleep apnea because when taken in the body, they can result to shallow breaths, irregular breathing, and increased respiratory pauses.

Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  1. Nasal congestion. It's already established that if there's any sort of obstruction in your nasal cavity, you have higher risks of developing obstructive sleep apnea. The congestion causes you to find it difficult to breathe through your nose. It does not matter if the congestion is due to allergies or due to an anatomical problem.
  2. Excessive weight or obesity. When fat accumulates around your upper airways, they tend to start choking you out. You will start having difficulty in breathing because the airways are obstructed. There is a reason why many obese people are often diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. If you are overweight, you should start shedding those extra pounds before they cause you any problems like obstructive sleep apnea.
  3. If you are a regular smoker, you are at a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, studies and statistics show that if you are a smoker, you are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than a person who do not smoke cigarettes. Why is this the case? The answer is simple. When you smoke, you are increasing the amount of fluid retention and inflammation in your upper airways. These obstruct your breathing.
  4. The circumference of your neck. A person with a thick neck tends to be more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea than a person with a narrower neck. A person with a thick neck may have a narrow airway. This obstructs breathing.
  5. Use of tranquilizers, sedatives, and alcohol. If you are using any of these substances, you are at a higher risk. These substances can amplify the effects of obstructive sleep apnea because they relax the muscles in your throat.
  6. You have a narrow upper airway. There is always the possibility that your airway is anatomically narrow. It's naturally narrow in the sense that you are not suffering from any disease that made it narrow. In other words, you inherited a really narrow throat. With that said, it's nearly impossible to find a cure for an obstructive sleep apnea that's caused by a naturally narrow airway. A surgery can be done but this is often not advised by medical doctors. The narrow airway can be worsened by either adenoids or tonsils. This often happens in children.
  7. Many of those in your family have obstructive sleep apneas. Family history is something that you should always take into account if you are more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea. Always keep in mind that sleep apnea can be hereditary. If you have family members who suffer from the condition, then you have a higher risk of suffering from it as well.
  8. Being male. If you are a man, you are three times more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. The condition is more prevalent in men than in women. However, if you are a female, your risk increases if you are obese and overweight. Furthermore, your risk also increases right after your menopause. This has been verified by several studies that aimed to understand the connections between menopause and obstructive sleep apnea.
  9. Being old. Older adults are the most common victims of obstructive sleep apnea. This is because sleep disorders and sleep troubles increase with age. At least 50% of adults who are aged 65 and above have some form of chronic sleep related issues such as trouble maintaining sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and decreasing hours of nightly sleep. Below is a quick look at the statistics regarding obstructive sleep apnea in men.
  • 3.2% prevalence in males who are between 20 and 44 years old
  • 11.3% prevalence in males who are between 45 and 64 years old
  • 18.1% prevalence in males who are between 64 and 100 years old

Complications of Sleep Apnea

You should never underestimate the seriousness of sleep apnea as a medical condition. It can cause a lot of more severe complications such as the following:

  1. Issues with the liver. There is a connection between liver problems and sleep apnea. When a person with sleep apnea takes a liver function test, he usually gets abnormal results. The livers of people with sleep apnea are also more likely to show some signs of scarring.
  2. Metabolic syndrome. Sleep apnea can cause metabolic syndrome. This disorder is characterized by an increased waist circumference, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. Needless to say, metabolic syndrome is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
  3. High blood pressure and other heart problems. If you have sleep apnea, blood oxygen levels can suddenly drop while you are sleeping. This imposes a lot of strain in your cardiovascular system. This increases your risk for hypertension.
  4. Daytime fatigue. Sleep apnea causes you to often wake up several times during the night. This leads to regular lack of sleep. In other words, sleep apnea makes it almost impossible to have restorative sleep. This makes you sleepy, drowsy, fatigued and easily irritated during the day.
  5. Type 2 diabetes. There is a proven connection between Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. This is because your insulin resistance is heightened by sleep apnea.
  6. Complications with medications and surgery. Sleep apnea can get in the way with scheduled surgeries and medications that you may be having. For example, if you have sleep apnea, you are more susceptible to surgery complications because you are prone to breathing difficulties especially when you have been sedated.

SADS: Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome

SADS (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, although sometimes people assume the A stands for "adult,") is often used as the term for a sudden, undetermined cause of death in adults. These syndromes are genetic heart conditions that can cause sudden death in young and apparently healthy people. Usually, the people who died from SADS did not know they had any heart issues, but if diagnosed, these conditions can be treated and deaths can be prevented.

Some warning signs for heart issues are:

  • a family history of unexplained or unexpected death under the age of 40,
  • persistent or unusual chest pain and/or shortness of breath during exercise, and
  • fainting spells or seizures during exercise or excitement.

"Arrhythmia" refers to the irregular beating of one's heart. It means your heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia which involves a fast heartbeat of 100 beats or more each minute, while the type of arrhythmia which describes a slow heartbeat of about 60 beats or less each minute is bradycardia. Normally, when there is a temporary change in one's cardiac rhythm or heartbeat, it's not necessarily dangerous, but arrhythmic heartbeats cease to be non-threatening if the heart rate stays irregular for a long time.

SADS can also affect people who do not have structural heart disease and appear to be healthy. The person just dies suddenly due to cardiac arrest without exhibiting any symptoms of heart disease. What happens is that blood flow towards the brain stops and the person slips into unconsciousness and eventually into death.

In many cases, if the cause of death is unknown, medical examiners may attribute the death to SADS. Especially if the involvement of drugs is absent, the vague but fatal condition is the culprit.

Alongside, SADS introduces channelopathies or a term for relatively rare diseases. These rare diseases involve an exhibition of symptoms that affect the heart's electrical functions. You can refer to them as the "silent killers" since they cause sudden death without any hints, at all.

Some of these channelopathies are:

  • Brugada syndrome - This is a condition wherein the heart’s normal rhythm is disrupted which leads to irregular heart beats in the lower chambers and ventricles of the heart.
  • Sodium channel disease - A problem occurs if a sodium channel is inactivated. If the sodium channel is blocked, muscles cannot contract. When this happens to muscles responsible in making sure that respiratory and circulatory organs are working properly, then it can lead to SADS (sudden arrhythmia death syndrome).
  • Short QT syndrome - This is a condition that also disrupts the heart’s normal rhythm. As a result, the heart muscles take much less time than usual to recharge in between heart beats. This condition can be detected through an electrocardiogram or ECG.
  • Long QT syndrome - This condition can cause very fast and chaotic heart beats. These fast beats are dangerous because they can trigger seizures and fainting spells. If the irregularly fast beats continue for so long, they can cause sudden cardiac death.
  • PCCD or Progressive Cardiac Conduction Defect - Also known as Lev-Lenegre’s Syndrome, this is a rare condition wherein the electrical impulses of the heart are conducted too slowly that it results in the gradual development of a heart block. Heart block happens when the electrical impulses of the heart fail to conduct properly from the atria (top chambers) to the ventricles (bottom chambers).

Causes & Treatment of SADS

Causes of SADS

  • If the sudden death happened to a young person, it may have been caused by a heart disease (i.e. conduction disease, genetic connective tissue disorders, myocarditis, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy).
  • It can also be caused by medication that went wrong.
  • It can also be caused or aggravated by channelopathies such as Short QT syndrome, mixed sodium channel disease, early repolarisation syndrome, progressive cardiac conduction defect or PCCD, catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia or CPVT, Brugada syndrome, and Long QT syndrome.
  • There are also other factors that may play a role in SADS that medical examiners often take into account such as genetics, metabolism, heart disease, toxicology, and nutrition.

Treatment for SADS
There is only one proven way to prevent SADS and that is through the utilization of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. This is an automated device that is implanted inside the body. It is able to perform defibrillation, cardioversion, and pacing of the heart. With that said, it has the ability to correct a lot of life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. The latest types of implantable cardioverter defibrillators can be programmed so that these will be able to detect heart rhythms that are considered as abnormal. The devices can also deliver much-needed therapy through programmable antitachycardia pacing.

Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome: Bangungot

Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome, Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS), or Sudden Unknown Nocturnal Death Syndrome are all terms for a syndrome first noted in 1915 in the Philippines and again in Japan in 1959, where it was named pokkuri ("sudden death").

Thailand, Laos, and Hawaii have their own experience with and words for the syndrome. It was seen in 1975 in a population of Hmong refugees in the US and subsequently noted in Singapore, where records showed that 230 otherwise healthy Thai men died unexpectedly and without apparent cause between 1982 and 1990. In the Philippines, where this syndrome affects 43 out of 100,000 yearly, is referred to as bangungot in the Tagalog language, the word for "nightmare" which translates as "to arise and moan."

In all cases in all countries, most of the victims are young Southeast Asian males.

SUNDS has been cloaked in mystery and superstition (see descriptions of folklores and myths below). Many Filipinos believe eating large quantities of carbohydrates just before sleeping causes bangungot. Autopsy reveals that the victims have no evidence of heart diseases or structural heart problems, but cardiac activity during a SUNDS episode indicates arrhythmia may be the culprit.

In the Philippines, however, most cases have been linked with acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis. During sleep, the pancreas may get inflamed, possibly as a result of the excessive intake of carbohydrates before sleeping.

A non-fictional counterpart of Bangungot is asphyxia or suffocation. Due to the extreme deprivation of oxygen, the body feels trapped. The feeling of suffocation is unrealizable unless the person wakes up.

Due to a lack of oxygen supply during sleep, the person’s internal organs begin to function abnormally. The abnormal function is painful, but because it happens during unconsciousness, pain won’t be felt. Without intervention, the internal organs slowly shut down, and cause death.

The only proven way to prevent death by SUNDS is by implantation of a cardiovertor defibrillator.

A cardiovertor defibrillator (ICD) is a device designed especially for people suffering from ventricular tachycardia. It's a battery-powered preventive device. Doctors place it under the skin to monitor heart rate. It establishes connection to the heart via thin wires.

It works by restoring heartbeat and is on standby 24 hours per day – granted that it has working batteries. If it detects abnormal heart rhythm, it delivers an electric shock that will restore a normal heartbeat. Especially if your heart beats much too rapidly, the device will come to the rescue.

An ICD, however, isn't easily available. Most medical professionals don't grant permission of the implantation of a defibrillator unless it's a serious health issue. This is due to the failure of many to distinguish the benefits of the device from its limitations.

Before being granted to have an ICD, a person will undergo thorough medical evaluation from heart doctors. If all of the measures have been ruled out, and if its only choice, the device will be given.

Deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are sometimes the most sudden, unexplainable, and grievous of all.

Deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are sometimes the most sudden, unexplainable, and grievous of all.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Dying in one's sleep happens to infants as well, and these are sometimes the most unexpected, unexplainable, and grievous deaths. SIDS, commonly called crib death, is the medical term for unexpected deaths that occur in infants under one year old. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants from 1 month to 1 year old. The majority of deaths due to SIDS happen between 2 and 4 months of age. Boys are more likely than girls to fall victim to SIDS. Incidence increases during cold weather.

How it affects infants exactly is a mystery. Usually, the infant is found dead in their crib after having been put to bed, with no evidence of struggle. Even an autopsy does not reveal the precise cause of death.

The exact cause of SIDS is still a mystery, although one theory is that a sleep arousal problem may be a factor. Other theories include a birth defect, a failure to develop, a reaction to infection, and/or an underlying biological vulnerability in an infant who has reached a taxing developmental stage and is exposed to an external trigger. In many cases, accidental suffocation, hyperthermia, hypothermia, neglect, or some other determined cause may have been attributed to SIDS.

Since no one is sure of its cause, methods of prevention are unknown as well. SIDS prevention strategies include having the baby sleep on its back in a crib on a firm mattress without loose bedding in a relatively cool sleeping environment, having the infant sleep near caregivers but separate from them (room sharing but not bed sharing), and avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke.

Risk factors include sleeping in bed with parents or siblings, placing the infant on its stomach or side for sleep, exposure to cigarette smoke, and sleeping on soft cushions with excessive blankets, pillows, clothing, or stuffed animals.

Risk Factors Associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The causes of SIDS are unknown. However, research studies point to various risk factors for the syndrome. There is good evidence to show that the prevalence of SIDS is affected by cultural, economic, and social factors. Such factors include poverty, ethnicity, race, and maternal education. For example, infants born in an impoverished nation has higher risks of SIDS. The risk factors identified for SIDS are as follows:

  1. Tobacco smoke. There tends to be a connection between mothers smoking and the prevalence of cases of sudden infant death syndrome. The rates of SIDS is much higher in babies who were born from mothers who smoke cigarettes. These are from mothers who smoke while being pregnant. There are higher levels of derivatives and nicotine in infants born from mothers who smoke. It is a well established fact that derivatives and nicotine has a negative effect in the unborn baby’s fetal neurodevelopment.
  2. Methods in putting the baby to sleep. If a mother puts a baby to sleep on his side or on his stomach, this increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome. Babies who are aged two to three months are exposed to the highest risk when it comes to sleeping positions. Sleeping position isn’t the only factor that increases risk for SIDS. Other triggers include elevated room temperature, excessive bedding, excessive clothing, stuffed animals beside the baby, and very soft sleep surfaces. Even common bumper pads can increase risk for SIDS. Bumper pads can suffocate the sleeping child. This is why bumper pads are not recommended for babies who are under one year of age.
  3. Alcohol. Parents who drink alcohol can also increase the risk for a baby to die from SIDS. There are two well-known studies that have shown a positive connection between parents who drink alcohol and infants who die from SIDS. One study showed a correlation between a spike in sudden infant deaths during New Year’s Eve celebrations and weekends. These are the times where parents drink and celebrate. The other study found out that infants with parents who have alcohol use disorder are two times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome.
  4. Genetics. Medical examiners have come to the conclusion that genetics plays a role in sudden infant death syndrome for the simple reason that it is more prevalent in males. Statistics show that for every two female babies who die from SIDS, three male babies die from the same condition.
  5. Pregnancy and infant factors. Teenage mothers have the greatest risk of having their babies die from sudden infant death syndrome. Rates of the SIDS decrease with increasing maternal age. This means that more babies by young mothers die from the syndrome. Older parents are more experienced in taking care of their babies so there are less deaths.

Ways on How to Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

  1. Vaccination. Certain types of immunization can help in lessening the risk for sudden infant death syndrome. There was an investigative study once performed by researchers in Berlin. They found out that increased DTP immunization coverage is connected with the decrease in mortality caused by SIDS. This is not the only study that reached conclusions that vaccinations reduce the risks for sudden infant death syndrome. These studies generally arrived at the conclusion that vaccinations halved the risk for SIDS.
  2. Proper sleep positioning. It has been found that making a baby sleep on his or her back can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS. In fact, the strategy has been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP. The practice is also being promoted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or NICHD in the United States. When the strategy was recommended in other countries, cases of SIDS would usually go down. This proves that the practice is very effective in lowering the risks for SIDS.
  3. Using proper bedding materials. The type of materials the baby sleeps upon plays a role as a risk factor. The baby is always at risk for sudden infant death syndrome if he or she sleeps with stuffed animals, fluffy bedding, crib bumpers, bumper pads, sleep positioners, soft pillows, and overly soft mattresses. Furthermore, you should never ever put blankets or pieces of clothing over the baby's head while he or she sleeps. These can suffocate the baby while asleep.
  4. Use of pacifiers. There is a very good reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend parents to use pacifiers when putting their new babies to sleep. Although the reason is quite unclear, using a pacifier tends to decrease cases of sudden infant death syndrome.
  5. Use of sleeping sacks for babies. What is a sleeping sack? This is basically a baby sleep bag which has holes for the baby's head and arms. The bag can be closed around the baby with a zipper. The sleeping bag maintains the baby's body temperature. This type of bedding has also been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, there was a study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics that showed the benefits of using a sleeping sack for babies. For one, the sack is helpful in reducing the incidence of turning from back to front while sleeping. Two, the sleeping sack prevents other beddings from getting to the infant's face. And three, the sack helps in keeping and maintaining the baby's body temperature thus preventing sudden swings in body temperature.
  6. Put the baby to sleep in a firm bed without any soft toys and soft beddings. This prevents suffocation or smothering. If you are unsure if the crib or mattress you are using is safe for your baby, you can get in touch with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can call them on their hotline number.
  7. Do not smoke if you are pregnant. Always remember that babies born from women who smoked cigarettes during pregnancy are three times more likely to die from SIDS. And don't let anyone smoke around you. Secondhand smoke can hurt you and your baby as much as the smoke coming from your own cigarettes.
  8. Out your baby to sleep in the same room where you sleep. Put the baby's crib beside your bed if necessary. This way you can watch over the baby much closer.
  9. Breastfeed your baby for as long as you can. This is known to reduce the risks for SIDS. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) advises parents to use breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for the baby for about six (6) months. As of now there is no definitive proof showing a correlation between breastfeeding and a lesser risk of SIDS. However, the numbers do not lie. Several research studies have shown that babies who are breastfeed are less likely to die in their sleep compared to babies who are not breastfeed.
  10. See to it that the baby's room is cool and that it is not so warm nor stuffy. Hot stuffy air makes it a lot more difficult for a baby to breathe with ease.
  11. Avoid the risk of overheating by dressing the baby properly before putting him or her to sleep. Avoid bundling the baby in too many clothes. Make sure that parts of the clothes or bedding do not cover the baby's face and head. Furthermore, as a parent, you should always be on the lookout for the warning signs of overheating such as sweating and the baby's chest feeling hot or too warm to the touch.
  12. Always be vigilant at night when the baby is asleep. Make it a habit to check up on the baby every few hours or so.

The bottom line here is that there are very specific risk factors associated with sudden infant death syndrome. As a new or an expecting parent, you should be fully aware of these risk factors. Knowledge about these could make all the difference between a dead baby and one who makes it out alive. Let's just say that the causes of sudden infant death syndrome are unknown but at least we now know several of the risk factors.

Blood Clotting

Steady flow of blood in our veins is very important for our body to function properly. Small clots are not health threatening and can easily be resolved by medication. However, when large amounts of blood form into clumps and restrict the blood's movement in our vital organs (like the heart or brain), clots become a health threat.

Usually, after accidents like cutting one's skin or having a bad fall, blood coagulates, making a scab. Usually, the body will naturally dissolve the clot after the injury has healed. But sometimes, clots form on the inside of vessels or fail to dissolve naturally and cause a blockage.

Dying in your sleep as a result of blood clotting happens when the clot forms and drifts into a major vessel in your heart or brain. That is why medical professionals perform MRI's and CT scans on trauma victims to detect blood clotting or possible internal organ damage.

The failure to detect blood clotting is fatal. The sad part about it is that death is supposed to be avoidable in this situation. Incompetency isn’t a usual issue. Even the most experienced medical professionals can miss identifying a blood clot. If this occurs, the doctors would feel helpless, but admit defeat, in the end.

Drug Intervention

Throughout history, there are numerous reported cases of people dying in their sleep due to drug overdose. The most controversial of these deaths involve high-profile celebrities lifeless being found dead in their hotel rooms.

Taking drugs, particularly psychedelic drugs, can be expensive. However, since psychedelic drugs provide an incomparable feeling of escape, some people, figure out means to avail of them. Regardless of the illegal nature of some drugs, those who can afford them don't hesitate to treat themselves.

If a prolific figure with an excellent-paying job engages in psychedelic drugs, and he falls asleep minutes after, his body's reaction may lead to death. These drugs have insanely powerful effects, and unfortunately, they have dangerous effects on the body.

Examples of some dangerous drugs:

  • Street methadone - supposed to aid in overcoming drug addiction; supposed to treat withdrawal symptoms
  • Ketamine - serves as an anesthetic and pain killer; induces otherworldly experiences
  • Heroin - powerful and addictive
  • Cocaine - serves as a stimulant drug; affects the brain's dopamine system
  • LSD - also known as acid; powerful hallucinogenic substance that causes rapid heart rate, irrational behavior (often incessant panic and aggression)
  • Opiates - highly addictive; temporarily neglects unpleasant emotions
  • Krokodil - serves as a pain killer and a powerful sedative

While these drugs can alleviate a form of suffering and reward short-term euphoria, they can instantly put you down. Since their effects can dramatically influence particular systems in the brain, they can accompany increased blood pressure, otherworldly hallucinations, and rapid heart rate.

Dying in your sleep due to the effects of drugs is worrisome. An unfortunate part about it is that, there's no guarantee of the amount that can cause an overdose. Thus, when taking these drugs, there is an unwritten agreement that the user is about to gamble his life.

Take, for instance, heroin. A user is aware that it's one of the most powerful drugs. However, he remains unaware of its exact power. He just takes it, and crosses his fingers that it won't kill him. Since it controls breathing, blood pressure, and the temperature levels, it can drastically damage a person's system. Without warning, heroin can kill in a matter of seconds.

Another issue with drug use and links to death in your sleep is the legality of some dangerous drugs. While they bring beneficial effects, they can also be fatal to the body.

A drug called Phenazepam, for one. It's a legal drug that many pharmaceutical companies sell. It works as a sleeping pill and provides relief for anxiety patients. An overdose is likely for patients who continually take it since it has a pharmaceutical life of more than 50 hours. This means that it can stay in your system for more than 2 days.

The key is to be extra careful all the time, and be mindful of moderate doses - whether or not you're about to go to sleep. Regardless of the drug per se, it is important to ask a doctor more about your medications. At best, inform him of all the drugs that you're taking. This way, each drug can work properly.

Drug & Alcohol Combinations

In addition to drug intervention as a cause of dying in your sleep, the combined effects of drugs and alcohol is a factor. Drugs, by themselves, are powerful. Taking them with alcohol is not recommended.

Alcohol may bring about positive effects for your health. However, if it is taken without moderation, it can be disadvantageous. You can become easily addicted to it, too. And, if it is taken as a part of a tandem, the possibility of drastic effects is not out of the picture.

In this cases, particular drugs along with alcohol have devastating effects on the body. Some of them are:

  • Benzodiazopene + alcohol
    • The drug, benzodiazopene, is on the top 10 major causes of drug-related deaths in 2009. On its own, and without the supervision of a physician, it can result to tragedy. Particularly, it can compromise the functions of the respiratory system.
    • Although benzodiazopene greatly relieves aches, it can cause a fatal effect when taken together with alcohol. Alcohol contains elements that interact with this drugs effects. The safe bet is to take it with water instead, and (depending on a physician’s instructions), avoid going to sleep immediately.