Control of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems undergoes rapid maturation during infancy. Sleep is at a lifetime maximum during this period and has a marked influence on cardiorespiratory function. The mechanisms leading to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may include a failure in the neural integration of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, with a concomitant failure to arouse from sleep. Studies have shown that sleep states exert a marked influence on respiratory control and arousability. Infants are more arousable in active sleep compared with quiet sleep from both somatosensory and respiratory stimuli. Post-natal and gestational age at birth also have a marked influence on arousability. Arousability is depressed by the major risk factors for SIDS (prone sleeping, maternal smoking, prematurity and recent infection) and is increased by factors that decrease the risk for SIDS (e.g. use of dummies, breastfeeding).