Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is one of the more terrifying syndromes for parents with infants because there is no way to know if or when it will affect a child.

According to Mayo Clinic:

SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.

Sadly, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, 1,600 infants died from SIDS in 2015.

Now, researchers at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Westmead, Australia, are saying there's a common health factor in infants who die of SIDS.

As The Guardian reports:

Babies who die from Sudden infant death syndrome have decreased levels of a brain protein-like neuropeptide, known as orexin, which is responsible for regulating sleep arousal.

During a study, it was revealed that the orexin levels in babies who passed away as a result of SIDS was 20 percent lower than that of children who weren't affected by the syndrome.

But what exactly is orexin? Orexin is a neuron that “stimulates wakefulness, alertness, eating, reward-seeking and healthy glucose balance.” According to NIH:

[Orexins] are recently described hypothalamic neuropeptides thought to have an important role in the regulation of sleep and arousal states

Infants with low levels of orexin may not become aroused enough to roll over when their bodies aren't getting enough oxygen.

Flickr/Mulan

According to Dr. Rita Machaalani, the sleep unit manager at the Children's Hospital, this is the first “biological explanation” for SIDS:

“It’s a huge breakthrough because in my knowledge of SIDS, there hasn’t been anything biological like that before, it has always been environmental risk.”

As the Mayo Clinic reports, some of those environmental risks include:

  • Sleeping on the stomach or side.

  • Sleeping on a soft surface.

  • Sleeping with parents.

Medical researcher and associate professor Alexandra Martiniuk believes this new finding could just be “one of many” causes of SIDS.

Two years ago, Daniel Rubens, an anesthesiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and someone who has been researching SIDS for years, revealed that SIDS may also result “when the infant has an inner-ear dysfunction.”

According to earlier reports, inner-ear dysfunction makes it difficult for babies to detect that they are having trouble breathing. Rubens explained to The Seattle Times:

“These babies have inner-ear damage, but they can’t tell you. They are too young to sit up. The baby has got a problem getting air.”

Researchers now hope this new finding will lead to babies being screened for low levels of orexin. However, it could be years before they get to that point.

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