Did you know that sewing a tennis ball onto the back of your pajama top can help alleviate certain sleep problems? Neither did I. But according to this WSJ article, the tennis ball technique is a low tech way to help some people with sleep apnea and/or snoring problems. (Also see the related graphic, which is pretty good.)

I was relieved to read that "there is no one right way to sleep." Why was I relieved? Because it seems like every time I read any article or am exposed to any broadcast about health, it turns out that I am doing something (everything?) wrong. If there's no one right way to sleep, maybe my unusual method of sleeping isn't unhealthy.

The article reveals that sleeping mostly on your back is fairly unusual. Only 17% of people do so. Like most people, I tend to occasionally change positions during the night. I sometimes spend some of the night on my side (which causes me to lose circulation in the down arm). But my main and preferred sleeping position is flat on my back.

Well, flat on my back with my head to one side or the other. And therein lies a problem. A couple of years ago when I went in for my annual physical exam, I asked the doctor about a small patch of scaly skin on the outer rim of one ear. He thought it looked like skin cancer or its precursor, so I soon visited a dermatologist.

The skin doctor excised patches of skin from the outer rim of each ear. (She found a second patch on the other ear.) The biopsy results revealed Chondrodermatitis Nodularis Helicis (CNH) rather than skin cancer. They figure that the condition is caused by compression of the tissue. This can occur due to consistently sleeping on the ear, a pattern of wearing headphones, or other similar pressure on the outer ear.

The dermatologist advised me to find a way to avoid putting pressure on my ear. I had gotten used to sleeping on a rather deep pillow, so that piece of bedding had to go. I soon found a product called the CNH Pillow, which has a depression that prevents pressure on the ear without sacrificing overall support. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to sleeping on it, but I have had no CNH symptoms since that time.

While there is no perfect way to sleep, the article describes how changing sleep positions can help alleviate acid reflux, shoulder pain, back pain, and neck pain, in addition to the sleep apnea and snoring issues discussed above.

I think that perhaps a bigger problem than sleep position is that the mattress my wife and I currently use. We started out with a waterbed when we first got married. Some years later as the waterbed craze waned, so did our enjoyment of the giant water filled plastic bag that we called our mattress. So we bought a pillow top bed.

After a few years we cut the pillow top from the mattress because the pillow padding had pretty much lost its redeeming qualities. Neither my wife nor I are heavy people. But over time our mattress has dilapidated into two depressions with a ridge in the middle. I can sleep on almost anything. But this is not the best situation for my wife. Or for cuddling, for that matter.

We have known for some time that we need a new bed, or at least a new mattress. But it just isn't in the budget at the moment. We have been undergoing a period of relatively significant expenses in recent years to deal with school, missions, and a confounding array of medical issues experienced by various family members. We hope to someday be able to replace our mattress and one of our aging cars. But when that might happen is anybody's guess.

While the sleep article was interesting and informative, I doubt it will lead me to change my sleep habits in the near future. After all, I rather like sleeping on my back. I might implement a few of the article's tips, but you won't see me sewing a tennis ball onto the back of my pajama top anytime soon.
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