Featuring Carol Ash, M.D.
Director of Sleep Medicine
Meridian Health, Riverview Medical Center
A need so basic it is often overlooked, a healthy night's sleep (or lack thereof) is pivotal to a host of health-related issues.
Addressing topics ranging from itchy skin and alopecia to more serious conditions like sleep apnea and SIDS, Dr. Carol Ash is Momtourage's go-to expert for all your sleep-health inquiries. Read on for answers to some of Dr. Ash's most commonly asked sleep questions:
Finding the Perfect Sleep Position
We rarely think of our sleep position as an early clue to hidden heath problems, and doctors don't often ask. Certain sleep position can optimize your health, and paying attention to your sleep position can be an important indicator of hidden health dangers.
57% of us start on our side, but we usually will not stay there for long, as side sleeping can put pressure on your hips or shoulders. Side sleeping can be a sign of seasonal allergies, upper respiratory infections or acid reflux.
Snorers can benefit from side sleeping, and people with muscle or skeletal injuries may also favor side sleeping. The left side is also best for pregnancy, as it improves blood flow to the uterus.
Sleeping on an Incline
I have been surprised over the years how many people sleep on an incline because "it is more comfortable." Not infrequent is to find a patient sleeping in a recliner at night. (A physician) wouldn't know this if they didn't ask.
Most think of this position as a method to relieve acid reflux, but it can also be an early sign of heart problems, severe sleep apnea or neuromuscular problems that result in swallowing problems or aspiration. A patient with these conditions would prefer this position and might not even know why.
As a sleep doctor, I know it is important to ask about sleep positioning as a clue to your heath.
Back sleepers sometimes will sleep with their arm over their head. This position helps to expand the rib cage and facilitates a deep breath at night. Patients tell me it helps them feel more relaxed and helps some with snoring or respiratory problems.
Sleeping with a Pony Tail
We normally change our sleep position many times at night. Rolling over and landing on an uncomfortable pony tail can be a source of sleep disruption if you have to keep waking up to reposition.
When we first go to bed at night circadian or biological rhythms create a drive for sleep that helps us slip into slumber. We do not have the same drive with subsequent awakenings, and it can be harder to drift back to sleep.
Setting the stage at night to make sure we are comfortable and avoid disruptions might be all that is necessary to avoid a sleepless night. This includes eliminating the pony tail.
An additional concern with a bed-time pony tail is traction alopecia, which is loss of hair due to chronically wearing your hair in a tightly pulled style. Tight headgear and hairstyles such as pony tails have all been known to be culprits.
Hair loss will certainly sabotage any beauty sleep efforts.
Bedding and Clothing
We should consider the comfort of our mattress and pillow, and we also want to make sure we have put some thought into the right clothing or pajamas, as they should be comfortable and not scratchy or tight fitting.
Uncomfortable clothing can be a source of sleep disruption if you have to keep making adjustments throughout the night. You also do not want to wear clothing that will cause you to overheat.
Traditional images of sleep attire might include a night cap to keep us warm and cozy. The optimum temperature for sleep is actually quite cool, with the range being 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sleep caps therefore might actually sabotage your sleep if they cause you to get overheated.
Light sleepers may find they are better sleeping with nothing at all.